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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Gibraltar accuses Spain of ‘gross sovereignty breach’ over customs incident

Gibraltar on Friday accused Spain of a "gross violation of British sovereignty" after an incident on one of its beaches involving Spanish customs agents who were attacked by smugglers, during which shots were fired.

Gibraltar accuses Spain of 'gross sovereignty breach' over customs incident

“The evidence surrounding this incident discloses a gross violation of British sovereignty and, potentially, the most serious and dangerous incident for many years,” said Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo in a statement.

The incident happened early on Thursday when a small Spanish customs vessel lost power while pursuing suspected tobacco smugglers off Gibraltar, a source from Spain’s tax agency which is in charge of customs told AFP.

After choppy seas pushed their vessel to the shore, the two officers on board were surrounded by a group of people and pelted with rocks, some of them weighing over three kilos (6.5 pounds), the source added.

The officers fired “shots into the water to try to drive away” the people throwing rocks, a tax office source told AFP, speaking on condition he was not identified.

One customs officer suffered a broken nose, the other fractured bones in his face, he added.

Videos circulating on social media appear to show several shots being fired during the incident, although it was not clear who fired them.

‘Reckless and dangerous’

“Should it be confirmed that Spanish officials discharged their weapons in Gibraltar, such action would be a very serious breach of the law,” the Gibraltar government statement said.

It called the incident “reckless and dangerous, especially in an area of dense civilian population, given the proximity of a residential estate in the area”.

The governments of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom consider that the events “will require careful consideration as to the nature and level of diplomatic response,” it added.

Gibraltar police and army officers used metal detectors on Friday to search for bullet casings on the beach, images broadcast on Gibraltar TV showed.

Picardo said Spanish law agencies know they can ask Gibraltar law enforcement to continue a chase into Gibraltar but “it would appear that they did not do so in this case.”

Spain’s foreign ministry “categorically rejected” the terms of the Gibraltar government statement as well as the “claims of alleged British sovereignty over the territory and waters of Gibraltar” which it contained.

Spain’s Budget Minister Maria Jesus Montero said the customs agency would “investigate what happened and will demand the necessary explanations”.

Post-Brexit talks

The incident comes as Madrid and London are locked in talks over Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relationship with the European Union.

The European Commission and Spain sent Britain, in late 2022 a proposal that would keep freedom of movement along the border of the tiny British enclave at Spain’s southern tip.

About 15,000 people, the majority of them Spaniards, commute daily from Spain to jobs in Gibraltar, which has a population of about 34,000.

Gibraltar has long been a source of British-Spanish tensions. Although Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, Madrid has long wanted it back, a thorny dispute that has for decades involved pressure on the

Tensions peaked in 1969 when the regime of dictator Francisco Franco closed the border, which did not fully reopen until 1985.