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Catalan Separatist Leaders Get Pardoned and Released from Jail

Catalan Separatist Leaders Pardoned and Released from Jail
Illustration: Marta Caro
Catalan Separatist Leaders Pardoned and Released from Jail
Illustration: Marta Caro

This has been quite an eventful week in Spanish politics. The nine Catalan separatist leaders sentenced for their roles in the 2017 unauthorized independence referendum and subsequent unilateral breakaway bid abandoned the Lledoners prison in Barcelona on Wednesday. In 2019, The Spanish supreme court found them guilty of sedition and misuse of public funds and sentenced them to serve between nine and 13 years of prison. They are Oriol Junqueras, the leader of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and deputy premier during the 2017 events; former regional ministers Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Joaquim Forn and Dolors Bassa; former Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, and two civil society leaders, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, whose organizations actively participated in the secession attempt. The pardons do not apply to Carles Puigdemont, premier of Catalonia in 2017, who fled Spain to avoid trial.

Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez had signed off the hugely controversial pardons on Tuesday, unleashing the wrath of the Spanish right-wing parties. However, he has garnered the support of some relevant business and religious figures, as well as that of the international press, who have billed Sánchez’s step as audacious yet necessary to unlock dialogue and negotiations. 

For the prime minister, the pardons close a period during which conflicts regarding the Catalan separatist leaders have been judicialized and open the route of politics. “It’s the best for Catalonia and Spain, and [it’s] in accordance with the spirit of concord and coexistence of the Spanish Constitution,” he said. Justifying the reprieve on the grounds of public utility to ease tensions and favour dialogue, Sánchez stressed the fact that the pardons did not require them to «change their ideas» because they were not punished for their ideas, “but rather for their acts against democratic legality. We live together and together we must deal with the same concerns and the same problems.” 

The pardons, however, are partial. They commute the prison sentences of the nine leaders but bars them from holding public office. Moreover, they will be reversed if they commit another serious offence within the next ten years. 

What is the Standpoint of the Released Leaders?

Being released from jail is not enough for the Catalan separatist politicians, who want full amnesty and the celebration of a legal independence referendum agreed with the central government. None of these measures is allowed by the Spanish constitution and will most likely become the main sticking points in the upcoming negotiations between Madrid and Barcelona, which will start next Tuesday with a meeting between Pedro Sánchez and Catalan premier Pere Aragonès at La Moncloa presidential palace.  

More confrontation is expected, but it remains to be seen how it will play out. “We will do it again, but differently,» said deputy premier Jordi Puigneró of Junts. “Prison has not divided us, it has strengthened our convictions,” said Oriol Junqueras right after being released from jail. “Be not mistaken — they couldn’t keep imprisoned for much longer. They wanted us to lose everything, but the only thing we’ve lost is fear,” added Jordi Cuixart. 

The Opposition

The right-wing parties have been swift to challenge the measure in the courts. Pablo Casado, the leader of the conservative People’s Party, has gone as far as demanding Sánchez to step down as prime minister and call a snap election to ask Spaniards about their opinion. According to a survey carried out a few days ago, 61% of Spaniards are against the pardons. The PP leader also accused the prime minister of “betraying his oath to defend national unity,” and said he would appeal the pardons at the Supreme Court.

The right also claims that the Catalan leaders have shown no remorse and that the pardons are driven by partisan interests since the Socialist-led minority government needs the support of ERC to stay in power and pass legislation. 

But for now, Sánchez is focusing on passing relevant legislation while waiting for things to calm down and for the dialogue between the central government and the Catalan regional representatives to bear some fruit. 

Dearexpat, is aimed at English-speaking readers who have been living in Spain for long enough to be interested in the country’s current affairs, with a focus on politics, the economy, society, and culture. In fact, anyone, anywhere with a keen interest in Spain might find it helpful. Since we are usually overwhelmed by an endless outpouring of news, this newsletter will be published on Fridays to provide readers with an overview of the most noteworthy events taking place during the week.

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Over the past 30 days, 12 women have died at the hands of their partners or ex-partners, five within the space of a week. To understand the magnitude of the figure, eight women were killed during the first four months of the year.

Among the recent victims are María Teresa Alaro, 48, shot by her soon-to-be ex-husband with a hunting rifle in Asturias; Rocío Caíz, 17, killed and dismembered by her 23-year-old former boyfriend in Seville shortly after she had given birth; Elena Livigni, 21, thrown out a balcony by his 26-year-old boyfriend in a hotel in Ibiza; Lucía Dotto, 42, the director of a luxury hotel chain based in Spain and Portugal, and Warda Ouchane, 28, stabbed to death in Tarragona by her partner, who also killed Mohammed, their seven-year-old son. The latest victim, Consuelo, 81, died two days ago after being hit by her husband with a hammer.

This the grimmest month since the Spanish government started recording gender-based violence murders in 2003. A total of 1,098 women have been killed since. Data gathered by Spain’s Observatory against Domestic and Gender Violence also reveals that 40 minors have been murdered and 311 have been left orphans since 2013.

Just last week, after 44 days of searching, the body of six-year-old Olivia was found inside a sports bag, weighed down with an anchor at a depth of a thousand meters off the coast of Tenerife. On 27 April, her father, Tomás Gimeno, had picked up Olivia and her one-year-old sister, Anna, from the home of Beatriz Zimmerman, his ex-wife. Later that afternoon, he phoned Beatriz to tell her that she would never see her daughters again. The oceanographic research ship equipped with an underwater robot that found Olivia has been looking for the bodies of Anna and Tomás unsuccessfully.

According to court documents, by murdering their daughters and deliberately dumping the bodies into the sea in a point far off the coast, Tomás was seeking “to create uncertainty as to the destination of his daughters by hiding their bodies in places… where he thought that they would never be found”, and in this way “cause [Beatriz] the greatest pain imaginable.”

The disappearance of Olivia and Anna has shocked Spanish society, prompting nationwide rallies. Equality Minister Irene Montero said on Twitter: “This violence committed against women who are mothers to hit them where it hurts the most is a national issue. We are here to do whatever is necessary.” Montero used the term “vicarious violence”, also included in the Child Protection Law —known as Ley Rhodes— which will come into force on 24 June to protect children affected by gender violence, and which suspends contact rights in the event of domestic violence and a protection order has been issued.

The uptick in gender-based violence has urged the Equality Ministry to revise existing protocols and find ways to reinforce them, alongside regional governments and several organizations. One of the proposals being studied is the so-called “Formulario Cero”, a tool that will allow relatives of the victim to contact the police and trigger surveillance measures without waiting for the victim to do so.

Despite the alarming data, the far-right party Vox, the third-largest force in the Spanish Congress, won’t give up its quest to refute gender violence. At the heart of their argument is a truism: “there are also men who suffer violence from women and are killed by their wives.” What they purposely fail to notice is that in 2020, 99.6% of people prosecuted and sentenced for gender-based violence were men, according to data provided by the Courts for Violence Against Women, established by the 2004 Gender-Based Violence Law, the first of its kind in Europe. In 2019, 56 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners as opposed to nine men.

Dearexpat, is aimed at English-speaking readers who have been living in Spain for long enough to be interested in the country’s current affairs, with a focus on politics, the economy, society, and culture. In fact, anyone, anywhere with a keen interest in Spain might find it helpful. Since we are usually overwhelmed by an endless outpouring of news, this newsletter will be published every Friday to provide readers with an overview of the most noteworthy events taking place during the previous week.

Get up to date with what is going on in Spain in just one go. Sign up to Dearexpat,

Dearexpat, is aimed at English-speaking readers who have been living in Spain for long enough to be interested in the country’s current affairs, with a focus on politics, the economy, society, and culture. In fact, anyone, anywhere with a keen interest in Spain might find it helpful. Since we are usually overwhelmed by an endless outpouring of news, this newsletter will be published every Friday to provide readers with an overview of the most noteworthy events taking place during the previous week.

Get up to date with what is going on in Spain in just one go. Sign up to Dearexpat,