A European Court of Human Rights ruling from this autumn has triggered the release of dozens of convicted Basque separatist terrorists–56 in five weeks–admitting their guilt and speaking to the public as they begin resettling in Spain.
What began as the ordered release of Basque separatist terrorist Inés del Río Prada, arrested for the deaths of 24 people in ETA terrorist attacks and sentenced to 3,828 years in prison, has now become precedent for a number of other violent members of ETA to wield successfully against their sentences. Del Río Prada’s counsel argued before the European Court and won on a technicality–Spanish courts had applied a 2006 precedent to her sentence retroactively that made her ineligible for parole, a precedent designed especially for ETA members.
The court found this application of the rule a violation of the continent’s international human rights law, leading to dozens of similarly imprisoned terrorists appealing their own sentences. The Spanish government had previously stated the case was unique and inapplicable to any other terrorists in prison.
So far, 56 ETA members and 62 terrorists in total have used the legal precedent to see their way out of jail. This Wednesday saw the release of five ETA members convicted of a litany of terrorist acts, in order: the double murder of Civil Guardsmen; attempted deadly terrorist acts; two terror acts killing five and seven civilians; an innumerable heap of terrorist acts totaling a more than 100-year sentence; and attempted murder of a high-ranking Civil Guard official. A terrorist member of the anti-ETA Anti-Terrorist Liberation Group (GAL), convicted of killing a French citizen mistaken for an ETA member, was released this Wednesday as well.
With a conservative president, Mariano Rajoy, at the helm, leftist elements in Spain have become increasingly restless, particularly in the northern regions of the Basque Country and Catalonia, over the issue of regional sovereignty. Rajoy has refused to allow a vote on Catalan sovereignty, though he has attempted to reach across the aisle to a state intent on secession.
In this climate, some of the freed terrorists have found a warm welcome in their hometowns. In one case, former ETA members convicted of killing a two-year-old boy were received with celebratory fireworks. Others have settled in Madrid, heads down for the camera, and assured the public they “didn’t consider [themselves] a danger” or said nothing at all.
But many in Spain feel threatened by the release of individuals who vowed to kill Spaniards to further a political goal and were convicted of doing precisely that in many cases. Both major national and regional newspapers are full of concerned opinions on the matter. Thousands took to the streets of Madrid in late October to protest the potential releases occurring this month.
With no indication of when these releases will have finally exhausted Spanish jails or whether an enterprising legislator could write a law to circumvent the European Court of Human Rights holding remains to be seen–as does, unfortunately, whether the freed terrorists will take to their old ways again. The month ends in suspense for Spain, and an open debate as to whether the continental court’s authority helps or hurts the European people.