Jun 22, 2021 - World

Spain pardons Catalan leaders jailed over 2017 independence referendum

Protesters in the street with police officers.

Protesters are seen with Catalan independence flags behind the police during the demonstration in June 2021. Photo by Thiago Prudencio/Getty Images.

Spain's government granted pardons Tuesday to nine Catalan separatists who were convicted for organizing a 2017 independence referendum that Spanish courts declared illegal.

Why it matters: The New York Times characterized the move as "a major olive branch" in Spain's most divisive conflict, which concerns who should govern the autonomous Catalonia region in the northeastern corner of the country.

  • The group of nine politicians and activists were originally charged with sedition and misuse of public funds, and were handed sentences of nine to 13 years.
  • Protesters in Catalonia were outraged by the harsh sentences and the Spanish government's heavy-handed crackdown on activists and protesters involved in the referendum.

The big picture: Catalonia declared independence from Spain after the referendum, prompting the Spanish government to impose direct rule and terminate the Catalan government.

What they're saying: Pedro Sánchez, the center-left prime minister, said the pardons are meant to be a first step in reconciliation and that "only those most fiercely resistant to change would oppose this," per NYT.

The other side: Adrià Alsina, a national secretary for the pro-independence Catalan National Assembly, said his goal was not pardons but a Spanish declaration of amnesty — that the jailed leaders had not committed any crimes — and a commitment to a new referendum.

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