Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Supreme Court Passes The Buck

The Supreme Court yesterday heard the appeal of the ETA prisoner and hunger striker Iñaki de Juana Chaos against his sentence for making terrorist threats, and the result has been a substantial reduction in the sentence. The original sentence of over twelve years imprisonment was tremendously harsh compared with those handed down in other cases for the same offence, and where the nature of the offence was much clearer. The Supreme Court not only reduced the sentence to three years, but they decided that the offence committed was of a lesser kind.

The decision by the Supreme Court is a clever one, and in many ways no less political than the original decision. By all accounts it was a difficult session with some judges demanding that the sentence be revoked, and others pushing for an even longer jail term. In the end they have created a situation where the prisoner can theoretically be released from jail, but have left the decision on whether to release him in the hands of the administration. De Juana Chaos has already served two years of the sentence and what could happen for a prisoner in these circumstances is that they get conditional release. Whether that happens in this case still depends more on politics than anything else, as any decision to release De Juana Chaos will still provoke a storm of protest. This is something the judges have avoided, although at the same time they make it possible. The earliest reports suggest that De Juana Chaos intends to continue his hunger strike until he is released, a high risk strategy for someone who could soon be walking completely free by accepting the sentence.

The Supreme Court here seems to be resisting the temptation to mix itself too much with political issues, despite having a conservative majority (incidentally, are there any judicial institutions anywhere in the world that don’t have a built-in conservative majority?). Yesterday’s ruling comes not long after a decision they made that ruled out judicial interference on the question of meetings between ETA’s political wing, Batasuna, and representatives of the Spanish Socialist party (PSOE) in the Basque country. This sets the court aside from the more politically partisan attitude being adopted by right wing judges on other tribunals or institutions.

Everything has to have its downside of course, and in this case it will be that Madrid that suffers the consequences. Yet another demonstration against the government is being organised by the Association for Victims of Terrorism on February 24th, with the De Juana Chaos case as the pretext. The good news is that I will be away that weekend so they won’t be able to include me in the headcount for those now inevitable claims that millions of people have responded to the “civic rebellion”.

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