THE nine Catalan separatist leaders who walked free from prison on Wednesday after a controversial pardon by the Spanish government appeared not to have lost their zeal for independence during their three and half year incarceration.

The group of politicians and activists were released a day after the Spanish cabinet of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez approved their pardon.

Pictured outside a prison some carried a banner demanding “freedom for Catalunya” and told awaiting media that their political views were stronger even than when they were first imprisoned in 2017.

“Today, as we leave jail, nothing ends. Everything continues,” said Oriol Junqueras, the former deputy leader of the regional government as he faced crowds outside Lledoners prison.

“Until victory day, we will continue working to make the dream of a Catalan republic a reality,” said Junqueras.

After a high profile trial in 2019, the nine Catalan separatists were all handed prison sentences of between nine and 13 years for the offence of sedition. Three others were found guilty of disobedience but were not jailed. 

All were convicted over their roles in a 2017 independence referendum that was later declared illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court and a failed declaration of independence days later.  

The failed bid to create a new state in the heart of Europe caused the worst political crisis in Spain since a failed military coup in 1981.

The partial pardons will set the nine politicians and activists free but they cannot take up office immediately. If they reoffend they will be sent back to jail. 

Sanchez’s gesture has proved highly controversial, with most Spaniards opposing the move, according to a series of polls. 

Some 63% of Spaniards said they were against granting pardons, while 25% were in favour and 6% were indifferent, according to a poll published last week for niusdiario.es, a Spanish online newspaper

At the weekend some 25,000 people, including lawmakers from the conservative People’s Party, the far-right Vox and the centrist Ciudadanos party,  held a demonstration against the pardons in Madrid.

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