The amnesty deal was struck by the Socialist Party in order to secure a second four-year term in the Spanish government
At least 170,000 people took to the streets of the Spanish capital on Saturday to protest against a controversial amnesty law that will see hundreds of Catalan separatists, involved in a failed 2017 independence bid, pardoned by the state.
The proposed law was agreed by Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who had to secure backing from Catalan and Basque nationalist parties in order to form a new government, following inconclusive elections In July this year that left the country with a hung parliament.
The Conservative People’s party (PP) narrowly beat Sanchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers party (PSOE) in the general election, but failed to secure enough parliamentary support to form a government.
The two main Catalan pro-independence parties – the social-democratic Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the hardline Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) – made their backing conditional on granting an amnesty for those linked to the independence referendum, which was declared illegal by the courts and resulted in Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.
Socialist Workers party official Santos Cerdan announced the agreement with the Junts party led by the exiled Carles Puigdemont earlier this month, about a week after the Catalan Republican Left gave its backing to Sanchez. Both parties collectively hold just seven seats in Spain’s 350-strong parliament, but would place Sanchez’s government over the required 176-vote threshold required to proceed with the legislation.
Junts leader Puigdemont fled to Belgium in 2017 following the failed independence attempt for Catalonia, as charges of rebellion, sedition and the misuse of public funds were made against him. Spain’s Supreme Court dropped the sedition charges earlier this year.
The amnesty law proved unpopular with the public with a recent poll suggesting that 70% of Spanish voters are against it.
The demonstration on Saturday, the largest in the string of protests since the deal was announced two weeks ago, saw protesters carrying placards reading “separation of powers”, “traitors” and “not in my name”. There were chants of “Sanchez resign” and “Viva Espana”.
Sanchez, however, defended the move arguing that amnesty would help the country turn the page on the past.
“In the name of Spain and its interests and in the defense of coexistence between Spaniards, we’re going to grant an amnesty to those people who are facing legal action over the [Catalan independence] process,” he said speaking in congress on Wednesday.