Spain’s PM wants to update sedition law to ‘defuse’ tensions with Catalonia

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Thursday his government would present a bill to reform the criminal code by updating the offence of “sedition”, bringing it in line with European norms.

pedro sanchez sedition law
“I think it will be an initiative that will also help to defuse the situation in Catalonia,” Spain's PM Pedro Sánchez has said. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

The law garnered attention following the failed Catalan independence bid of October 2017, when Spain rounded up those involved in organising a banned referendum and charged them with a string of offences — including sedition.

In an interview with La Sexta television, Sánchez said his Socialist party and Podemos, its hard-left coalition ally, would present the initiative to parliament on Friday in a move that would “defuse” tensions in Catalonia.

“We are going to present a legislative initiative to reform the crime of sedition and replace it with an offence comparable to what they have in other European democracies such as Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland,” he said.

The move would be “a step forward”, he said, revising a crime dating back to 1822.

“I think it will be an initiative that will also help to defuse the situation in Catalonia,” Sánchez added.

Sedition would be renamed an “aggravated public disorder”, with penalties similar to those “set out in the penal codes of European democracies”.

Separatists in the wealthy northeastern region have long clamoured for independence from Spain, but remain deeply divided over how to achieve it.

The failed independence bid sparked Spain’s worst political crisis in decades, with then-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and several others fleeing abroad to escape prosecution.

However, a dozen people were put on trial, and nine were convicted of sedition among other charges and sentenced to heavy jail terms. They were later pardoned.

Spain still wants to try Puigdemont and two others, and the proposed bill would not change that, Sánchez said.

“The crimes committed in 2017 will continue to be present in our penal code, although no longer as crimes of sedition… but as a new type of crime called aggravated public disorder,” he said.

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Spain opens ‘terrorism’ probe into Catalan separatist leader

Spain's top court said Thursday it was opening an investigation into Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont on "terrorism" charges over protests linked to the failed 2017 Catalan independence bid.

Spain opens 'terrorism' probe into Catalan separatist leader

In a statement, the Supreme Court said it had decided “to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute” Puigdemont “for terrorism offences in relation to the Democratic Tsunami case”.

Democratic Tsunami is a secretive Catalan protest group behind a string of protests after Spain jailed 13 pro-independence leaders, two years after their botched bid to break away from Spain.

The independence bid had sparked the country’s worst political crisis in decades.

On the day the sentence was handed down in October 2019, thousands of activists blocked access to Barcelona airport for several hours, prompting the cancellation of over 100 flights.

During clashes between police and protesters, 115 were injured.

In its decision, the court referred to the crime of “street terrorism”.

The aim, it said, was to “undermine law and order, to seriously breach the peace, to cause causing serious harm to the functioning of an international organisation or to cause a sense of terror within the population or part of it”.

There was “evidence pointing to Carles Puigdemont’s participation in the events under investigation”, the ruling added, referring to his involvement in the creation of the group whose aim was “to subvert law and order and to seriously destabilise democratic institutions”.

READ ALSO: Judge in Spain extends probe into Catalan separatist’s ‘Russia ties’

Puigdemont unmoved

Puigdemont, who lives in self-exile in Brussels and is a member of the European Parliament, reacted drily on X.

“The same day they accuse me of receiving a 7,000-euro Rolex watch, they charge me with being a terrorist. All I need now is a secret bank account in Panama,” he wrote on X.

He was referring to an article published in El Confidencial newspaper which said he had been given a Rolex watch by a company behind a string of separatist events, including the Democratic Tsunami protests.

The court’s decision will complicate life for Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, whose minority left-wing government relies on Puigdemont’s hardline separatist JxCat party for parliamentary support.

Spain’s government is currently in the process of drawing up an amnesty law that was demanded by Puigdemont’s party in exchange for crucial parliamentary support in a November vote to reappoint Sánchez as premier.

The draft law, which was shot down by lawmakers in late January, is currently being reformulated but will essentially offer an amnesty to those wanted by the justice system over the failed independence bid, notably Puigdemont.

The move has sparked fury among Spain’s right-wing opposition, which sees Puigdemont as public enemy number one.

It has also stoked opposition from within Sánchez’s Socialist party.

Puigdemont is already wanted in Spain for his role in the secession bid, and the courts will need the European Parliament’s permission to question him in this latest case.