Spain has formerly pardoned the nine leaders convicted over Catalonia’s failed bid for independence in 2017.
They were jailed after being found guilty of sedition in 2019; three others were fined after being convicted of disobedience but escaped jail terms.
The government decision to officially pardon the separatists has sparked controversy across the country and triggered mass demonstrations across the country and particularly in Madrid.
However, the government believes the move will help heal tensions over the region; the separatist drive to break away sparked the country’s biggest political crisis for 40 years.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said: “With this act, we want to open a new era of dialogue and reconciliation – and to end once and for all the division and confrontation.”
The pardons do not overturn a ban on the jailed leaders’ holding public office and the premier stressed they were imprisoned for their actions and not for their beliefs.
The decision is not universally popular; one newspaper said 60% of Spaniards were against the move and government opposition leaders have indicated they will appeal the move.
Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the centre-right president of the Madrid region, said it was a humiliation for Spain. “Far from bringing harmony, it strengthens separatism and social division.”