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Spain frees ETA prisoners after rights ruling

Court orders release of nine imprisoned members of armed Basque separatist movement after ruling from European court.

Last updated: 09 Nov 2013 23:34
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A Spanish court has ordered the release of nine imprisoned members of armed Basque separatist group ETA, after a European rights ruling that could see dozens more fighters released.

The court ordered the releases on Friday, and some prisoners were freed by late that night.

Many Spaniards are outraged by the release of ETA prisoners convicted of deadly shootings and bombings in a violent campaign to carve out an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.

Spanish courts, however, have said they are legally bound to comply with the ruling last month by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.

The European rights court found on October 21 that Spain had acted illegally by retroactively cutting short the years of remission that ETA prisoner Ines del Rio Prada had earned from good behaviour.

Dozens of ETA prisoners and some violent convicts had their remissions cut short under the same policy, and they are now demanding their release under the European court ruling.

On Friday, the National Court in Madrid, which handles terrorism-related cases, examined the cases of 11 ETA prisoners and determined that nine of them were in an "identical" situation to that of Del Rio Prada, who was freed on October 22, a judicial source told the AFP news agency.

Decades long campaign

The Spanish Supreme Court decided in 2006 that years of remission should be deducted from the convict's total sentence - often amounting to hundreds of years - instead of the 30-year limit on prison terms set by Spanish law.

In the case of Del Rio Prada, sentenced to 3,828 years for 24 killings, the new doctrine wiped out her remission and extended her prison time by nearly nine years.

ETA, listed as a "terrorist group" in the United States and Europe, is blamed for the deaths of more than 820 people in its four-decade campaign.

Victims of ETA's violence had urged Spain to refuse to bow to the Strasbourg court and condemned the prospective release of ETA convicts.

In October 2011, ETA declared a "definitive end to armed activity" but it has not formally disarmed nor disbanded as the Spanish and French governments demand.

The group has been severely weakened in recent years by the arrests of its senior leaders in Spain and France.

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