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Who are the 'thousands' of people who could benefit from Spain's amnesty?

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
Who are the 'thousands' of people who could benefit from Spain's amnesty?
People hold 'Esteladas' (Catalan pro-independence flags) in protest against a search for propaganda supporting Catalonia's independence referendum by the Spanish Guardia Civil at the private postal service company Unipost in Terrassa on September 19, 2017.

Spain's acting Socialist PM Pedro Sánchez has finally broken his silence over a potential legal amnesty for Catalan separatists. Who and how many people exactly stand to benefit is now a matter of debate.


Speaking to the PSOE federal committee on Saturday, Sánchez spoke publicly about a hypothetical amnesty for the first time and threw his support firmly behind one.

This comes after weeks of rumours and backroom negotiations as Sánchez tries to ensure his re-election through an investiture vote - something that would need the support of Catalan separatists to pass the Spanish Congress - following July's inconclusive general election.

READ MORE: Why is Spain's amnesty plan so controversial?

An amnesty would be done "in the name of Spain, in the interest of Spain, in defence of coexistence among Spaniards," Sánchez said.

"Today I defend the amnesty in Catalonia for the events that occurred in the last decade." Just a day later, thousands took to the streets of Madrid and Málaga to protest the proposed amnesty.

READ ALSO: Thousands rally in Spain against amnesty for separatists

Sánchez's public backing follows news that his PSOE and hard-left Sumar reached an agreement to form a coalition government, another key step to reinstating him for another term.

Speaking to the Spanish press after finalising the coalition deal, both Sánchez and Sumar leader Yolanda Díaz hinted that "there will be four more years of progressive government," something that would suggest they were also confident that Catalan separatist parties Junts and ERC would soon also come to an agreement.


The amnesty

In return for their legislative support, Junts and ERC have demanded an amnesty for hundreds (some say thousands) of activists who faced legal action over their roles in Catalonia's failed independence bid in 2017. Often these legal cases were for very minor offences such as taking part in protests, but would also theoretically include the separatist leaders, notably former Junts leader Carles Puigdemont who fled Spain in the aftermath ,who is considered by many on the Spanish right to be an enemy of Spanish democracy.

Reports in the Spanish media have suggested that as many as 4,000 people involved in the failed independence bid could benefit from this hypothetical amnesty. But who are these people, and are there really that many?

4,000 or 1,432?

As these investiture vote negotiations have been done behind closed doors, the exact details of any proposed amnesty are unclear. 

Figures reported in the Spanish press fluctuate wildly, with some suggesting it could be as many as 4,000 people and others putting it at a few dozen key political players.

Òmnium Cultural and the Catalan National Assembly have cast doubt on the 4,000 figures, instead pointing to 1,432 people who could specifically benefit from an amnesty law.

According to reporting from 20 Minutos, this would include 113 criminally convicted people, 17 with pending sentences, 387 with open criminal cases, 880 who have been sanctioned administratively, and another 35 pending proceedings with auditors.


Who are they?

The devil will be in the details of any amnesty deal. If the law were to include a blanket amnesty on all Catalonia-related criminal acts committed between January 2013 and October 2017, and the perpetrators of each went unpunished (as opposed to more specific charges, such as actually organising the independence referendum) then the beneficiaries could be far more than 1,432.

If this wide-ranging interpretation were followed, Òmnium puts the potential figure at around "3,000 reprisals".

ERC and Junts want the amnesty to include individuals punished for the 1-O referendum vote in 2017, but also those convicted for their involvement in the '9-N' self-determination referendum of 2014.

Josep Costa, former vice president of the Catalan Parliament and political ally of Puigdemont, wrote in a regional newspaper La República recently that an amnesty would largely be an administrative procedure for overturning small convictions: "Of the 1,432 judicial cases, there are many that are already filed or that have ended in acquittal. And of those that have ended in minor convictions, many already served, the amnesty will serve to cancel criminal records and little else," writes Costa.

Equally, any prison sentences that have been given to separatists have already been suspended (with or without an amnesty) and the vast majority will not be served because they are less than two years.

Costa went on to say: "it turns out that the independence fighters who have or have had a judicial case do not even reach 1,500... there are not thousands of those accused with real risk of going to prison. Not even hundreds. There are at most a few dozen, most of which are political or ex-political."


The politics

Numbers aside, an amnesty will inevitably be very controversial. For some in Spain, Sánchez's willingness to make deals with separatist forces that don't even want to be part of Spain is evidence that he will do anything to cling onto power. For others, an amnesty would be another logical step in Sánchez's ongoing efforts to deescalate the Catalonia question.

Since Sánchez and PSOE opened investiture negotiations, the proposed amnesty has been attacked by the Spanish right and many parts of the right-leaning press, with protests across the country. 

If an amnesty agreement is made and Sánchez re-elected with the support of Catalan separatists, Spanish politics could be cranked up another notch. If not, Spain will likely head to the polls again in January for its sixth general election in a decade.


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