Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Monday he will pardon nine imprisoned Catalan separatists charged with sedition over their roles in a 2017 referendum on Catalan independence.
The announcement came during a speech in Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, about the future of the region.
Sánchez said his Cabinet would approve the pardons Tuesday.
Twelve separatists were convicted and given long prison sentences for their roles in holding the banned secession referendum in 2017. They then declared independence a few days after the results. Unionists boycotted the referendum, which was held amid a large police presence intent on stopping it.
One of the separatists, Oriol Junqueras, said pardons were being given because the government feared involvement in the cases by the European Union, which he said would likely have overturned the convictions.
“With this action, we materially get nine people out of prison, but we symbolically add millions and millions of people to coexistence,” Sánchez said during his speech.
The pardons have been a divisive issue in the rest of Spain, with national polling indicating 60% of Spaniards oppose them.
Earlier this month, thousands opposed to the pardons took to the streets in Madrid to protest the idea and call for Sánchez’s resignation.