Friday, January 26, 2007

Rough Justice

More judicial craziness to finish the week with. The big news story of the last couple of days in Spain has concerned the ETA prisoner Iñaki de Juana Chaos. I highlighted the case of this prisoner in an earlier post, as being a possible obstacle in the Basque peace process. Given the current state of that process, it cannot be considered to be an obstacle anymore. It is, however, an appalling example of how political considerations can take precedence over any others in the administration of justice.

De Juana Chaos is currently very sick as a result of a hunger strike he has undertaken in protest at the additional sentence he was given for allegedly making terrorist threats in two newspaper articles. He was not charged with this offence when the articles were originally published; the charges were only brought after it became clear that there was no other legal impediment to him leaving prison having finished his previous sentence for much more serious offences.

This week the original tribunal that sentenced him to over 12 years imprisonment for the newspaper articles, was now prepared to review his situation and consider putting him under house arrest instead, at least until his pending appeal against the sentence is heard. The only real effect of the decision would be to remove responsibility from the state if the prisoner decided to continue with his hunger strike. Unsurprisingly the Partido Popular (PP) and their allies in the AVT immediately protested that this would be a concession to blackmail and tried to present it as yet further concessions by the government to ETA – even though the government had nothing at all to do with the move to review the prisoner’s status.

Other judges in the same court as those that delivered the sentence then pushed to have the full court make the decision, which was within their rights but essentially motivated by signs that the original tribunal was prepared to relax the imprisonment. So the full court met and decided by a heavy majority to maintain De Juana Chaos in his current status, ordering force feeding in the Madrid hospital where he is currently held because of his weak state.

The key problem in the end with this case is that a bad initial decision makes all subsequent decisions that do not correct the original error to be equally bad. So yes, the hunger strike is self-inflicted, but the refusal to take into account the circumstances that have led to that situation only compounds the initial miscarriage of justice. None of this can be justified by the crimes that de Juana Chaos has committed in the past, he has served his sentence for those under the legislation that existed when he was sentenced. It’s a crazy and dangerous situation created by media and political pressure, and the willingness of judges to make political judgements which they then attempt to present as being the mere application of the law.

The idea that anything is acceptable if it’s against terrorism has created this lamentable atmosphere where anyone who defends a more balanced opinion is likely to be accused of being a terrorist sympathiser; and where judges can twist the law freely to fit their own political prejudices. The damage has been done, the consequences could end up affecting much more than the cases against ETA prisoners.


M. Imbelecio Delatorre said...

De Juana Chaos is not Ghandi...

Graeme said...

No he's not - but then I never tried to suggest he was. If we all have to be like Gandhi to get justice then not very many of us will qualify.