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Spain: Top court drops sedition charges against Puigdemont

January 12, 2023

Secessionist leader Carles Puigdemont is still facing charges of embezzlement and disobedience. This lowers the maximum sentence from 15 years to four.

Carles Puigdemont raises thumb at press conference in Alguer, Sardinia, Italy
Sedition charges against Catalan secessionist leader and EU lawmaker Carles Puigdemont have been dropped following a reform to Spain's criminal codeImage: Gloria Calvi/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Spain's Supreme Court has dropped sedition charges against Catalan secessionist leader Carles Puigdemont.

This lowers the maximum sentence that he could receive from 15 years to 4. Puigdemont still faces charges of embezzlement and disobedience.

The European Parliament lawmaker, who served as Catalonia's president when the region organized an independence referendum from Spain, is living in exile in Belgium.

What did Spain's supreme court say?

On Thursday, a Spanish Supreme Court judge dropped the charge of rebellion in connection with Catalonia's referendum on secession in 2017.

The court upheld charges of embezzlement and disobedience and the European arrest warrant for Puigdemont's capture.

It also upheld embezzlement and disobedience charges for former Catalan cabinet members Antoni Comin, Lluis Puig and Clara Ponsati.

The change to Puigdemont's sentence comes after the offense of rebellion was abolished by Spain's parliament in a bid to calm the political crisis and citing a need to bring the country's laws on sedition in line with those of other EU countries.

President Pedro Sanchez's coalition minority government requires the support of the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left and a number of other regionalist and secessionist parties in order to pass legislation.

In the Supreme Court statement, judge Pablo Llarena said that he considered that the previous criminal code was "fully comparable to that of neighboring countries." He argued that the criminal reform from Spain's legislature brought the country to a "context close to the decriminalization" of sedition.

Protester holds Catalan pro-independence flag in Brussels; another woman has the flag draped over her chest.
Catalonia's 2017 independence referendum was declared illegal by the Spanish Supreme CourtImage: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP

Puigdemont in exile since 2017

The independence referendum held in 2017 was declared illegal by the Supreme Court. After Catalonia's autonomous parliament ran the vote anyway and then declared independence, Puigdemont went into exile and Spain temporarily suspended the region's autonomy.

More than 90% voted in favor of secession, but turnout was low, at 43.3%. Opponents of secession had told their supporters to ignore the vote.

Other leaders besides Puigdemont were sentenced to up to 13 years in prison, but have since been pardoned.

Puigdemont was arrested while passing through Germany. He was not extradited to Spain as sedition is not a punishable offense in Germany.

The lawmaker has immunity as a member of the EU's parliament, to which he was elected in 2019. His immunity was provisionally reinstated by the EU's judiciary after the parliament had lifted it.

sdi/msh (dpa, AFP, Reuters)