MADRID (AP) — Spain on Thursday sealed final approval for controversial reforms to the crimes of rebellion and embezzlement, a move by the ruling center-left coalition to retain the support of a pro-independence Catalan party and ease tensions in the northeastern region.
The package approved by a majority of senators abolishes the crime of rioting for a public disorder and reduces the penalties for some embezzlement convictions. It had already been voted by a large majority in the Lower House.
Those two issues have angered the main right-wing opposition Popular Party and other opposition groups who see them as intolerable concessions to groups that tried to break up Spain in an illegal secession push in 2017.
They claim the changes are also a cynical move to appease the pro-independence Catalan party ERC which bolsters the government’s electoral strength in parliament and had called for the changes.
Many pro-independence Catalan politicians and officials – many from the ERC – facing trial or already convicted of attempted secession could benefit from the proposed changes.
Rebellion, on the books since 1822, and embezzlement were among the main charges against nine of the 12 Catalan independence activists and politicians convicted for their role in a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain issued on October 27, 2017. following an illegal secession referendum earlier that month.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez granted a partial pardon to the nine separatists last year, freeing them from prison after they spent three years behind bars serving sentences ranging from nine to 15 years. However, they are still barred from holding public office.
Sanchez said the reforms brought Spain into line with other European democracies. He denies the reforms are a concession to separatists, but agrees they will help reduce tensions between Spain and the northeast.
The push for secession was Spain’s most serious political crisis for several decades.
Sanchez said the reform would not exempt former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his associates who fled the country in 2017 from being tried if they return, albeit for a crime with a lesser penalty.
Riot was punishable by 10 to 15 years in prison The crime of aggravated public disorder carries sentences of three to five years behind bars. It also shortens the time period for bans from holding public office.
The embezzlement reform introduces a reduced sentence of up to four years for cases where no personal gain of the accused is found. If there is personal gain, the sentence remains the same between eight and 12 years.
Raquel Redondo in Madrid contributed to this report.