Justice The Prosecutor's Office of the National Court stops ETA prisoners from remaining in 'semi-freedom' in the Basque Country

"There are some judges and a Prosecutor's Office that, with their decisions, have turned the National Court into a true bunker completely oblivious to the current social reality

Justice The Prosecutor's Office of the National Court stops ETA prisoners from remaining in 'semi-freedom' in the Basque Country

"There are some judges and a Prosecutor's Office that, with their decisions, have turned the National Court into a true bunker completely oblivious to the current social reality." With all the ETA prisoners already in the Basque Country and Navarra, the battle of the Abertzale left has left behind the dispersion and has focused on accelerating the granting of permits and releases. In his own words, "deactivate all the exceptional policy in terms of permits and third degrees."

The jurisdiction over Prisons passed into the hands of the Basque Government in October 2021, a change that has led to a notable increase in the number of permits they propose and third-degree concessions. This is explained by legal sources familiar with the situation, which indicate that the Basque Government has opened its hand to benefits with respect to the practices of the Ministry of the Interior, which had already softened its position before handing over the competition.

With all eyes on his first steps, the Executive of Iñigo Urkullu did not rush. His first proposals for third degrees took a few months to arrive, although they were eight at a time. They were the most substantiated cases, as evidenced by the fact that the Prosecutor's Office only appealed one of them. The historic ETA member José María Arregui Erostarbe, Fiti, had to return to prison when the Court upheld the appeal presented by the prosecutor Carlos Bautista.

Since then, the Prosecutor's Office has appealed two out of three grants of semi-liberty and numerous grants of exit permits. These resources are the ones that have generated the angry declarations of the Abertzale left, which came to ask the Government to replace the prosecutors whom it considered responsible for the situation. Despite this, the chief prosecutor of the Court, Jesús Alonso, and the prosecutor Carlos Bautista continue in the same position and with the same criteria.

According to the Penitentiary Surveillance Observatory of the Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT), the Basque Government has supported 40 third-degree prisoners of ETA. The Prosecutor's Office has appealed 26 and 10 of them have already been revoked. Another five have been confirmed, while the rest are pending resolution, according to data compiled by AVT lawyer Carmen Ladrón de Guevara.

In addition, the new criterion of the Supreme Court that the prisoners must wait in jail for the resolution of the prosecutor's appeal, instead of leaving automatically as up to now, has caused that in three of the appealed cases the ETA members have returned to the prison pending the decision of the Hearing.

When the Prosecutor's Office or the prisoner appeal a decision, the matter passes into the hands of the central Surveillance judge, but the last word rests with the First Criminal Section of the Court, which resolves all appeals in prison matters. It is difficult to indicate what criteria the court is following, which has issued disparate and in some cases chaotic decisions.

Two years ago, the Court raised a firm criterion in a resolution in which it maintained that in most cases the letters of repentance from ETA prisoners are "standardized" and only sought access to prison advantages. "They are not comparable to the express and individualized request for forgiveness to the specific victims, nor with the effective reparation of the damage [...], nor with the categorical rejection of the terrorist postulates," the court held.

But since then the magistrates have changed and, with them, the answers. The president of the Criminal Chamber, Concepción Espejel, has gone to the Constitutional Court. A good omen for the Abertzale left, since Espejel had refused to open his hand to benefits with standard cards. Another member of the Opposite Sensitivity Chamber also left the TC, the progressive Ramón Sáez, a supporter of expediting the end of prison life for the prisoners of a gang that no longer operates.

The balance allowed by these two simultaneous exits was broken with the transfer to this court, at his own request, of magistrate José Ricardo de Prada, with whom the victims had already clashed over his position regarding the prisoners.

The victims predicted decisions favorable to the ETA members and so it was. In June of last year, the Chamber issued an order that rectified the course and eliminated standardized letters as an obstacle to benefits. The order, a presentation by De Prada, granted an ETA prisoner the permits that had been denied and opened the door to benefits for other inmates that until then had been rejected.

With the decision already known, the new president of the First Section, Francisco Javier Vieira, indicated that he was finally presenting a particular vote. The third magistrate to sign also ended up distancing herself from a resolution that was applied in any case.

De Prada later accused his colleagues of having yielded to pressure from the media. The resolutions have continued and today it is not easy to anticipate what will happen in each case. Some letters of regret that the prosecutor considers generic and of no real value are not barring permits or grade progressions. Others yes. So far in 2023, the court has offered all kinds of resolutions, which have meant slowing down the rate of releases, but not blocking them.

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