This Easter, the Pardonometer Is Taking on an Old Tradition in Spain

Bye Bye Opacidad

Civio Citizens Foundation: ‘BYE OBSCURITY, HELLO DEMOCRACY’ – Data for a more transparent democracy. Image used under Creative Commons License.

Following discussions with the Spanish Cabinet, the King of Spain approved 13 official pardons nominated by religious brotherhoods and associations. Every year, the Easter Pardon happens and every year they are cloaked in secrecy. But not this time.

Civio Citizens Foundation, an organisation that works in favour of transparency and open data, decided to remedy this situation with the Pardonometer.

This year, for the first time, the government supplied the details of the pardons granted: 11 convictions for public health offences, one for robbery and another for ongoing fraud. Every one of the decrees includes data about the case history, the approval of the victims of the crime, and prison reports, although the government has yet to clarify whether sentencing courts are in favour of the measure or not.

Many Spanish judges think that the pardon is unjustified in a modern legal system, and should be fundamentally reformed, if not abolished altogether.

The Easter Pardon is a Spanish tradition

The law that regulates the pardon in Spain dates to June 1870. The tradition of the Easter Pardon goes back to the reign of King Carlos III and has remained firmly rooted to this day, regardless of the political system in power. The government of José María Aznar granted nearly 6,000 pardons. Zapatero's government granted over 3,000. The current acting government of Mariano Rajoy has granted over 400 pardons in the first 11 months, and is on track to grant a total of around 1000.

In #OurDailyStateGazette: the government grants Easter Pardon to a man who swindled his business for two years.

— Civio Citizens Foundation (@civio)

The pardon implies acquittal of the sentence, not forgiveness of the crime. The law maintains that a pardon must not affect the rights of others, and that it will be granted only for purposes of justice, equality or public interest, at the judgement of the sentencing court. In theory, the pardon serves a legitimate purpose when awarded for liberal reasons or good conscience.

The problem is that many of the cases that have come to light in Spain have provoked a notable public unrest, for controversial “VIP treatment.”

Not all pardons are equal

In 1998, the brother of the then Minister of Transport Gabriel Arias-Salgado was pardoned. That same year, two socialist politicians, José Barrionuevo and Rafael Vera, were pardoned for their involvement with the Antiterrorist Liberation Group, a paramilitary group that was accused of state terrorism. In 2000, more than 1,300 prisoners were released from prison thanks to a mass pardon awarded on the occasion of the millennium and the Great Jubilee (a year-long Catholic celebration of the mercy of God and forgiveness of sins). In 2011, the pardon allowed Alfredo Sáenz, convicted of indictment and false information, to maintain his honour and moral standing, which would enable him to continue in his role in the Spanish financial sector.

The Pardonometer is a Civio Foundation project, launched in 2013. It has become the primary source of information about use of the Easter Pardon in Spain. The project has made it possible to consult all pardons awarded in Spain since 1996, via a web application that obtains the information directly from Boletín Oficial del Estado (Official State Gazette). Searches can be filtered by type of offence or autonomous community- the geographical ‘states’ of Spain which have a certain amount of autonomous power form the central government- and data can be compared year by year to assess how differently governments have made use of the pardon.

El indultómetro: Más de 10.000 indultos desde 1996

The Pardonometer: Over 10000 pardons since 1996  [above – The Pardonometer was introduced in 2013].

Moreover, social and media pressures are taking effect, and the number of pardons granted has begun to fall significantly in Spain. The peak of 1,744 pardons awarded in 2000 has dropped to just 75 pardons in 2015 – the lowest number since 1996, representing an fall in the average “from one and a half pardons a day to one and a half pardons a week.”

The Pardonometer is just one of the initiatives of the Civio Foundation. The aim of Civio is to achieve real and effective transparency, with free access to public data/information for any citizen or organisation. Its work has been recognised as one of the best practical applications of two trends that are often heard about: the use of open data and data journalism.

Projects from the Civio Foundation such as El BOE nuestro de cada día [Our Daily BOE], ¿Dónde van mis impuestos? [Where do my taxes go?], Tu derecho a saber [Your right to know], Quien manda [Who's in charge] or the Pardonometer look set to make the greater transparency that citizens demand from our elected officials a reality. With today's technology, this seems all the more possible. For even greater transparency, the applications for all these Civio projects are available as “open-source model” projects on the Github platform.

In Easter Week we remember the famous story of Pontius Pilate forgiving Barrabas. With data from the Civio Citizens Foundation's Pardonometer, it is no longer so easy to simply wash ones hands of responsibility.

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