11 Nov, 2022 @ 18:15
2 mins read

Spain’s government proposes changes to sedition law used to prosecute Catalan independence leaders

Act Of The Catalan National Assembly Against The Persecution Of Former President Carles Puigdemont In Barcelona 24 Sept 2021
Protesters for the independence of Catalonia are seen in Plaza de Sant Jaume holding placards calling for the freedom of former president Carlos Puigdemont. Hundreds of supporters of the independence of Catalonia have gathered in Plaza de Sant Jaume called by the Assemble Nacional Catalana (ANC) to denounce the judicial persecution suffered by former president Carles Puigdemont after being arrested on the island of Sardinia (Italy). (Photo by Paco Freire / SOPA Images/Sipa USA) *** Local Caption *** 35229083

THE SPANISH government today proposed a change to the law that would mean a lower prison sentence for former Catalan premier Carles Puigdemont should he return from self-imposed exile to face trial in Spain for his role in the 2017 Catalan independence drive. 

The Socialist Party and leftist Unidas Podemos, who govern Spain in coalition, want to remove from the Spanish Criminal Code the offence of sedition – which carries a 15-year prison sentence – and replace it with “aggravated public disorder”, which would have a five-year maximum jail term.

Some of the politicians and civic leaders tried for their role in the independence drive, which saw an illegal referendum on secession from Spain and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence, were convicted of sedition, among other offences. 

They were later pardoned by the central government and released from prison, as part of the government’s bid to find a negotiated solution to the Catalan independence issue. 

The offence of sedition dates from the 1800s, and is defined as an act by someone to “publicly and tumultuously rise up to prevent, by force or outside the legal channels, application of the law, or any authority, official corporation or public officer from the lawful exercise of their duties, or implementation of administrative or judicial resolutions.”

Politicos Llaman A Votar Este 1 O
Carles Puigdemont in a file photo from 2017, before he fled Spain to avoid arrest. / Cordon Press

A reform to the offence of sedition was promised by the coalition government shortly after it came into power in 2020. The government argues that this is to bring Spanish legislation in line with other European countries, where the offence does not even exist in some cases. 

If the reforms proposed today were approved, it would mean that while self-exiled politicians such as Puigdemont – who fled Spain in the wake of the 2017 independence drive – would face a lesser charge in court for their actions, they would still likely be sentenced to jail time. 

The plan, however, met with a fierce response from the political opposition. The leader of the conservative Popular Party, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, accused the Socialist Party Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of “historical irresponsibility”, accusing him of “always putting his political interests above those of Spain”. 

The centre-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), meanwhile, has called on Feijóo to file a motion of no confidence against the prime minister.

For its part, however, the government is confident that the move will be accepted by the Spanish public on the basis that it will serve to bring about a solution to the Catalan crisis, according to a report in Spanish daily El País

The coalition does, however, still have one obstacle to overcome: it does not have a working majority in the Congress of Deputies, Spain’s lower house of parliament, and as such will have to seek the support of smaller parties if it is to enshrine the changes into law.

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Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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