Strasbourg court calls for release of ETA inmate jailed for 3,000 years

European Human Rights panel ruling places Spain’s preventive Parot Doctrine in jeopardy

ETA terrorist Inés del Río, pictured during a High Court trial in Spain.
ETA terrorist Inés del Río, pictured during a High Court trial in Spain.EFE

The European Court of Human Rights has hauled Spain over the coals for its application of the so-called Parot Doctrine to ETA terrorist Inés del Río Prada, who was jailed for 3,000 years in 1989 for her part in the 1986 Plaza República Dominicana bombing of a bus carrying civil guards, which left 12 dead and more than 60 injured.

The continental body called on Spain to release Del Río as soon as is feasible as the indefinite prolongation of her sentence contravened articles 7 and 5.1 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. It also ordered the Spanish government to pay Del Río 30,000 euros in damages and to foot the 1,500-euro bill for the cost of the process.

Interior Minister Jorgé Fernández immediately responded that Spain had no intention of releasing Del Río and appealed the Strasbourg court’s decision. If the appeal is unsuccessful, the minister added, the state would deduct the 30,000-euro damages payment from the compensation imposed on the terrorist cell responsible for the 1989 attack, which totaled 300 million pesetas (more than 1.8 million euros). Fernández also lambasted the timing of Strasbourg’s announcement as “lamentable and lacking sensibility,” as it coincided with the 15th anniversary of the kidnap and assassination of Popular Party deputy Miguel Ángel Blanco in 1997.

Under Spanish law, no prisoner can serve more than 30 years, making sentences such as those handed down to the Madrid comando cell of more than 2,000 years apiece entirely symbolic. With prison benefits — work, gaining qualifications etcetera — Del Río was eligible for parole on July 3, 2008, having served 18 years of her 30-year term.

In 2006 a social outcry against the potential release of high-profile ETA prisoners, some with more than 20 deaths attributed to them, caused the Supreme Court to reverse its own 1994 ruling on prison benefits. Previously, these had been applied to the maximum 30-year-sentence but the introduction of the Parot Doctrine allowed for any sentence reductions to be applied to the full term. Many legal professors expressed concern at the time that the new norm was unconstitutional.

The court said Spain could not apply retroactively legislative changes made after the crime was committed

The European court’s ruling stated that “internal jurisdictions cannot apply retroactively in detriment to the prisoner legislative changes made after the crime was committed. The retroactive application of penal laws is only permissible when the legislative change benefits the accused.”

The legislation was named for ETA terrorist Henri Parot, who was sentenced to almost 5,000 years in 1990 for multiple murders and the Zaragoza Civil Guard barracks bombing in 1987, which killed 11 people, including five children. However, the introduction of the doctrine failed to prevent the release in 2008 of the former commander of the Madrid cell, Iñaki de Juana Chaos. The Parot Doctrine has been applied to 84 ETA prisoners, of whom 67 remain behind bars, according to the families of ETA prisoners association, Exterat.

The terrorist group announced a unilateral ceasefire on October 20, 2011 and has since been petitioning for negotiations with the French and Spanish governments. One of the abertzale left’s chief demands is a loosening of conditions for ETA prisoners, including moving those that have embraced the so-called Nanclares program of reconciliation to jails in the Basque Country. ETA has also called for a blanket amnesty as a show of good faith but has yet to hand over its weapons, the first step demanded by the government before any concessions are considered.

The EH Bildu coalition, which groups together the abertzale, EA, Aralar and Alternatiba, said the ruling should provoke a “profound reflection” by the government on its penitentiary policy for ETA inmates.

We do not agree with the decision. We will follow every legal avenue to prevent her release”

The European Court of Human Rights has more than 30 similar cases pending, which sooner or later will inevitably be resolved with the same conclusion, essentially quashing the Parot Doctrine.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón said that he “severely disagreed” with the court’s decision and that the government would not release Del Río, considered a flight risk, “until the final resolution of a process that has only just begun.”

The leader of the Basque PP, Antonio Basagoiti, termed the resolution “a specific decision concerning one person that does not judge the entire content of the Parot Doctrine. We will appeal against it. We are democrats and we do not agree with the decision. What we will not do is what others do and threaten judges or terrorize the courts. We will follow every legal avenue to prevent her release.”


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