Spain releases Eta convict after European court ruling

The release has angered many people in Spain, as Tom Burridge reports

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A convicted Basque militant has been freed after the Spanish authorities upheld a European Court of Human Rights ruling against her continued detention.

Ines Del Rio, of the separatist group Eta, had been serving a 30-year sentence for bomb attacks in the 1980s.

Spain's High Court had earlier backed the Strasbourg court's ruling against Spanish laws that denied her right to earn remission through prison work.

Spain says dozens of Eta prisoners could now be eligible for release.

Ines del Rio left the Teixeiro prison in A Coruna in north-west Spain at 16:25 local time (14:25 GMT).

Analysis

The ruling by the European Court of Human Rights has caused anger, pain, and disbelief amongst the victims of Eta's violent campaign. Time and again, over the past two days, the question has been posed in the Spanish media: How can a woman, convicted of the murder of 24 people, in several bombings in the 1980s, serve just 26 years in prison?

The answer implicit in the Strasbourg court's judgement is that Ines del Rio must be punished in accordance with Spanish law at the time she committed her crimes. That means a 30-year jail term, and that she is eligible for early release for good behaviour in prison.

A 2006 ruling by Spain's courts, denying early release for the most serious of criminals, cannot be applied retrospectively. This case, and the very real possibility that other convicted members of Eta could also now be eligible for release, also highlights the wider issue of reconciliation in a post-Eta Spain.

Greatly weakened following a string of arrests of its members, the militant Basque group announced a permanent ceasefire two years ago. But a centre-right Spanish government remains committed to the "defeat" of Eta, and there is nothing resembling a peace process in sight.

Monday's ruling by the European Court of Human Rights "gives us no choice", concluded a prosecutors' report at the High Court requesting Del Rio's immediate release, reported El Pais newspaper.

The penal chamber subsequently ordered her immediate release.

Groups representing victims of Eta's bloody four-decade campaign for independence for regions of northern Spain and south-west France denounced the Strasbourg ruling in protests on Monday, while supporters of the prisoners held marches in favour.

Eta declared an end to its armed campaign in 2011.

Parot doctrine

Del Rio was arrested in 1987 for her part in 23 murders and car bombings carried out by Eta.

She was later sentenced to more than 3,800 years in jail, but the criminal code in force at the time reduced this to a maximum stay of 30 years.

Del Rio earned sentence reductions through prison work, making her eligible for release in July 2008 - but two years earlier the High Court applied what is known as the "Parot doctrine" to extend her detention.

Under this doctrine, sentence reductions are applied to the sentences for individual crimes - collectively amounting to 3,828 years - rather than the overall 30-year maximum stay.

It meant Del Rio's release would be postponed until 2017.

An activist holds a placard which reads "This murderer will be free", alongside a picture of Ines Del Rio An activist holds a placard which reads "This murderer will be free", alongside a picture of Ines Del Rio

But on Monday the European Court of Human Rights, upholding a July 2012 ruling in favour of Del Rio, condemned Spain for this practice and ordered Spain to ensure her immediate release and to pay her 30,000 euros (£25,400; $41,000) in compensation.

Although the Strasbourg court's ruling only applies to Del Rio, the Spanish government says dozens of other convicted Eta members could be eligible for release.

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