Sedition charges dropped for ex-Catalan leader after penal code change

Madrid, Jan 12 (EFE).- A Spanish supreme court judge on Thursday dropped charges of sedition leveled against the former leader of the Catalonia region Carles Puigdemont after Spain’s government scrubbed the crime from the country’s penal code. 

Puigdemont, who exiled himself to Belgium following Catalonia’s unsanctioned referendum and subsequent declaration of independence from Spain in 2017, still faces charges of misuse of public funds, which carries a sentence of up to 12 years, and disobedience. 

Supreme court judge Pablo Llarena, who led the investigation into several Catalan politicians and activists who were later convicted of their involvement in the failed secession bid, made the adjustments in line with the decision by the Spanish coalition government to remove the charge of sedition from the penal code, replacing it with the lesser crime of aggravated public disorder. 

The law change by prime minister Pedro Sánchez’s left-wing coalition has been heavily criticized by conservative and right-wing parties, which view it as an appeasement to Catalan separatists. Sánchez’s minority coalition government relies on smaller regional parties, including separatist outfits, to pass legislation through parliament. 

The judge also lifted the European arrest warrants of former Catalan officials

Llarena also lifted European arrest warrants in place for Puigdemont and other self-exiled former Catalan officials, including Toni Comín and Lluis Puig, although national warrants remain in place. Previous attempts by Spain to have the politicians extradited have failed.

Charges against two other politicians, Marta Rovira and Clara Ponsatí, were lessened to disobedience, which is not an imprisonable offense and thus could pave the way for their return to Spain. 

The latest development in the fallout from the Catalan referendum is part of a bid by Sánchez to defang the central government’s relationship with authorities in the wealthy northeastern region. 

In 2021, the Socialist Party leader pardoned nine Catalan politicians and activists, including the former regional president Oriol Junqueras, who had been sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison for their role in the crisis. 

The referendum on October 1, which was boycotted by opponents of Catalan independence, and the unilateral declaration of independence 10 days later, brought Spain to the brink of a constitutional crisis. 

In response to the ballot, which was met with a heavy police crackdown, the government of erstwhile prime minister Mariano Rajoy, a conservative, used a hitherto unused constitutional article to impose direct rule on Catalonia, dissolve its regional chamber and slate new elections.EFE

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