Court ruling opens door to mass release of Eta prisoners

Continued imprisonment of Eta member Inés del Río ‘not lawful’

Spain’s Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardon (right) and Spain’s Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz before a joint news conference in Madrid on Monday. Photograph: Reuters

Spain’s Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardon (right) and Spain’s Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz before a joint news conference in Madrid on Monday. Photograph: Reuters

Tue, Oct 22, 2013, 01:00

A European court ruling against a Spanish legal mechanism that has delayed the release from prison of an Eta killer has raised the possibility of dozens of other members of the Basque terrorist group being freed.

The European Court of Human Rights yesterday said the continued imprisonment of Eta member Inés del Río, who was jailed in 1987 for murdering 23 people, was not lawful and she should be released “at the earliest possible date”.

Del Río was due to be freed early in 2008, due to good behaviour and work she had carried out in prison. However, just weeks before her release, the Spanish High Court applied the so-called Parot doctrine to her case, which meant that her sentence was recalculated, keeping her in jail until 2017. The doctrine, first introduced in 2006 to keep the Eta member Henri Parot in jail, retroactively limits the effect of a prisoner’s good behaviour on the length of time they serve.

Del Río had been arrested behind the wheel of a van full of explosives and found guilty of bombings and shootings.

The Strasbourg court had initially made the same ruling on her case in 2012, prompting the conservative government of Mariano Rajoy to appeal. However, as well as releasing the prisoner, the upholding of the ruling means that the Spanish state must also pay her €30,000 in damages, plus €1,500 in legal fees.

The Spanish High Court is scheduled to decide today on her release. While the binding ruling applies specifically to her case, it is expected to have ramifications for Spain’s penitentiary policy and many other convicted Eta killers. About 600 Eta members are currently in jail, 54 of them under the terms of the Parot doctrine, which now appears unsustainable in light of the European court’s pronouncement.

Minister of justice Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón said Spain had to accept the ruling, despite the government’s misgivings. He added that “in each individual case, a deep study will be made regarding whether or not to apply the sentence”.

The ruling drew a furious reaction from terrorism victims groups. Ángeles Pedraza, president of one group, responded on Twitter with the words: “Hurt. Pain. Suffering. Fear. Desperation. Shame. Grief.”

The leader of Voices against Terrorism, Francisco José Alcaraz, urged the government to disobey the court and maintain the Parot doctrine, warning that otherwise his group would take to the streets. The decision came two years and a day after Eta announced the end of its four- decade violent campaign for Basque independence. However, the organisation has still not handed over any weapons.