The proposed legislation to tackle the Catalonia conflict with an amnesty for those imprisoned or facing judicial or police action has now reached Spain's Congress of Deputies. Four Catalan parties - ERC, Junts, PDeCAT and the CUP - jointly registered the bill this Tuesday in the Spanish Parliament, accompanied by supporters from civil society. The bill, to which ElNacional.cat has had access, consists of six articles and an additional provision. It also looks at the situation of the Catalans in exile abroad. The promoters of the initiative say it is the "starting point." Parties such as the Basque Nationalists and Valencian group Compromís have already advanced their support. On the other hand, the PSOE, whose support is crucial, announced it would vote against the bill even before the final text was registered.
The first article makes clear its scope: “All acts with a political intentionality, whatever their outcome, which are classified as crimes or as conduct denoting administrative liability, carried out since 1st January, 2013, and until the entry into force of this law are granted an amnesty." And it further defines the "political intentionality" that it covers as "any action linked to the democratic struggle for the self-determination of Catalonia". Thus, it focuses both on the first unofficial consultation of Catalan voters on independence (the 9-N vote on 9th November, 2014) as well as the independence referendum of 1st October, 2017.
This first article, the longest, states that it includes the crimes of rebellion and sedition, offences of public order, those of abuse of administrative power, falsification of documents, misuse of public funds, disobedience, disclosure of secrets, and “acts of expression and opinion” on different media and platforms. On the other hand, the police officers charged with offences in relation to the repressive actions on referendum day are not covered.
It also states that "the beneficiaries of this law may not in the future be interrogated, investigated, summoned to appear, arrested, held in custody, prosecuted or interrogated in any way for the actions included in this amnesty." Court proceedings which are not yet concluded or without a final resolution "will be closed without further formalities."
The second article sets out the "effects and benefits" of this amnesty law, such as the immediate release of the beneficiaries as well as the deactivation of national, European and international arrest warrants. It would also put an end to all initial investigations and legal proceedings, including extradition proceedings. It would guarantee the "reinstatement in full of the active and passive [democratic] rights of officials who have been sentenced", the elimination of criminal records and the return of quantities handed over as bail, sanctions or fines of an economic nature.
Finally, the fifth article states that "actions of recognition of the rights established under this law shall be imprescriptible" - that is, there will be no time limit on the legal protection granted." As for the economic effects, "they will be subject to the different rules of prescription of the legal system."
"Exercise of political rights"
In the initial exposition of the amnesty law, its promoters assert that "in a democratic society, the free exercise of political rights should not be responded to by means of the criminal justice process." And they add: "These are fundamental rights and freedoms that not only guarantee the expression of the will of the citizens, individually and together, but are also established as basic mechanisms which can be used to channel democratic dissent and the resolution of political conflicts." The introduction to the law recalls the precedents of the amnesties of 1936 and 1977 in Spain, as well as other European instances, such as that established by France in the process of decolonization of Algeria.
The text notes that at present “there are more than 3,200 people who have been or continue to be accused of offences that derive from participation in events related to the 9-N, the 2017 referendum or citizen mobilizations and protests in response to the repression”. These judicial processes have become "an authentic general case against the independence movement that applies the criminal law of the enemy." Therefore, the text concludes, "as a priority, it is necessary to recover the political path for the resolution of conflicts which have a political nature."
A matter of political will
As the pro-independence civil society organizations reiterated today, what is at issue in the amnesty bill is the "political will" to resolve the Catalan political conflict. Speaking at the doors of the Congress in Madrid, the vice-president of Òmnium Cultural, Marcel Mauri, emphasized that it is an "important step" that should make it possible to "turn the page". Asked about the PSOE's position on the bill, he said "I truly hope that they [support it]."
The parliamentary groups followed the same line. Montse Bassa (ERC) warned that rejecting this amnesty law is "maintaining injustice and revenge" and "wanting to negotiate [while holding] hostages". Míriam Nogueras (JxCat) stated that the Spanish government has not yet put any alternative on the table. Ferran Bel (PDeCAT) defended that amnesty is the "optimal solution". And Mireia Vehí (CUP) recalled that, with the presentation of this bill, the PSOE has the ball in its court.
The PSOE's closed door and Podemos's doubts
Nevertheless, before it had even reached the Spanish lower house, the PSOE had bolted the doors to keep it out. This was done yesterday by senior cabinet minister and PSOE organizational secretary José Luis Ábalos, who reiterated his position "against the amnesty approach", due to its generic nature. At most, he said, there are "particular cases" that can be resolved via legal means, such as the pardons, although this route remains frozen by the Spanish government, even though the excuse of the proximity of the Catalan elections not longer applies.
For the PSOE's coalition partners, Unidas Podemos there are also doubts. The party's leader in Congress, the Catalan Jaume Asens, has stated that they will not vote against it, but has not guaranteed that they will vote in favour. He warned that "it is doomed to failure": "We have always said that the three ways that are put on the table to release prisoners are legitimate, but the Supreme Court would probably overturn an amnesty proposal. We do not want to generate false expectations that later generate frustration. That is why we are committed to the reform of the Penal Code and pardons."