The Spanish government has, somewhat quietly, announced today that it already has the requests to pardon the Catalan political prisoners on the table. And it says it's not just going to slip them back into a drawer. That’s what the minister of justice claimed in this Wednesday’s parliamentary question session in Madrid, in response to JxCat's Laura Borràs. The minister Juan Carlos Campos let it be known that his executive "will begin processing the requests for pardons next week." Ministry sources point out that it is a long and complex process, which could take six months. Fewer than 1% of requests for pardons are granted. For now, the process will begin by demanding reports from the Supreme Court and the public prosecutors. There have been several such requests for pardons that have reached the Spanish government, from that of the UGT union, to those of lawyer Francesc Jufresa.
In his response to JxCat, Campos stated that the government abides by all court rulings, but that it is also "willing to dialogue". In this regard, he noted the "possible regulatory changes" in relation to the crime of sedition, but also announced the processing of requests for pardon. Addressing pro-independence politician Borràs he said, in a by-the-way manner: "Those [requests] which you are concerned about, because their turn has come up, we will start processing next week". He said that the government will do this "because their turn has come up". Campo denied that there is any "drift" in Spanish justice, which the JxCat spokesperson had asserted.
Sources in the justice ministry report that the requests for pardons have already entered the system and their processing is about to begin. They will affect all 12 of those convicted in the Supreme Court pro-independence leaders' trial (the nine who are jailed and three who were fined), because the request of lawyer Jufresa - the first to arrive at the ministry - referred to all of them. The first step, next week, will be to hear the parties, starting by requesting the respective reports from the sentencing court (the Supreme Court) and the prosecution service. The resolution of these procedures, they point out, can take six months or more. The process now begins "once the traffic jam caused by the pandemic has been overcome".
Since December last year, the Spanish ministry of justice has had on the table the request made by lawyer Francesc Jufresa. This summer, the UGT trade union also asked for a pardon, in this case for former Catalan labour minister Dolors Bassa, while three former speakers of the Catalan parliament made a similar request for Carme Forcadell. All these applications will be combined into a single file. During 2019, the state granted fewer than 1% of the pardons requested. In total, 39 were accepted and 4,123 denied.
A pardon (indulto in Spanish law) revokes the sentences imposed on defendants, but they are still considered to be guilty. The independence movement's principal demand has been for an amnesty, which would require a special law to be passed, but would stop anyone from being found criminally responsible for any matter related to a defined event - in this case, presumably, the referendum and independence process. Thirdly, the reform of the sedition law has been raised as a route that could possibly shorten the sentences served by the Catalan leaders. Appeals to European justice are also underway, but will take years.
The announcement took Laura Borràs by surprise. In her parliamentary question, the JxCat spokesperson was referring to the "drift" of Spanish justice, and asked what measures the Spanish government would take to curb it. Borràs noted how Spanish judges continue to ignore UN working groups and the rulings of the EU Court of Justice (CJEU). She also commented that at that same time, president Quim Torra was testifying at the Catalan HIgh Court "for the second time about a banner", after appearing in the Supreme Court last week, relating to a previous occasion on which the banner was put up. "Do you think this is normal?" she asked.
The PP, "vigilant"
The Popular Party will be "vigilant" and "attentive" to the progress of the legal procedure announced today. Sources in Spain's main opposition party stated this after the announcement, warning that "they will denounce the concessions [of pardons] and we will see if they are within logic." The PP noted that "this has happened so quickly since the [pardon] process began." They see a political gesture being made towards the Catalan independence movement: "This is the price that Sánchez is paying to vote in his government and pass his budgets."