The Basque Country already adds 18 third degrees to ETA prisoners in five months, compared to 28 of the Government of Sánchez in four years

Among the beneficiaries is Atristain, whose case in Strasbourg is claimed by the ETA environment to speed up releases

MADRID, July 17 (.) –

The Basque Government has already added 18 third degrees to ETA prisoners in five months, compared to 28 of the Executive of Pedro Sánchez in four years, since mid-2018. Among the latest beneficiaries is Xavier Atristain Gorosabel, who was arrested on the 2nd of June to enter prison after the Supreme Court rejected a request to review his sentence for not having a lawyer of his choice when he was interrogated incommunicado.

According to data from the Prison Observatory of the Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT), consulted by Europa Press, Atristain and Unai López Ocáriz are the last two ETA prisoners to benefit from the third degrees granted by the Basque Government, once they assumed the powers in matters of prisons transferred on October 1 by the Executive of Pedro Sánchez.


The central government, in fact, has granted with the arrival of Pedro Sánchez at the Palacio de la Moncloa from June 2018 up to 28 progressions to the third degree for ETA prisoners, according to figures from Penitentiary Institutions, the body dependent on the Ministry of the Interior that promoted the approach of those convicted of terrorism to prisons in the Basque Country and Navarra.

Atristain’s case has gained notoriety among the group of ETA prisoners because they interpret that it opens the door to accelerate releases after the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that considered their right to a trial with all guarantees violated, by not having sufficiently motivated the judicial decision that prevented him from appointing a lawyer of his choice during the police interrogation.

Specifically, from the prisoners’ environment they defend that a new ‘Parot doctrine’ can be applied based on the case of Atristain, an ETA prisoner who has no direct victims related to his criminal activity -like Unai López de Ocáriz- -. He is sentenced to 17 years in prison, of which he has served eleven.

His discharge is scheduled for April 5, 2028, but a little over a month after he returned to prison, to Martutene, the Basque Government has upgraded Atristain to the third degree based on the “unequivocal signs of having dissociated himself from any terrorist purpose or means”.

Despite the fact that the ECHR did not respond to the appeal of the State Attorney, the Supreme Court upheld Atristain’s conviction based on two key issues: the conviction was based on other evidence in addition to the statement given incommunicado when he was arrested and the compensation of 12,000 euros –and 8,000 for costs– repairs that damage caused by the violation observed by Strasbourg.

The Atristain case focused on the lack of individualized motivation regarding the choice of lawyer when an ETA member was arrested and subjected to the first interrogation incommunicado. Other ETA prisoners, such as Gorka Palacios and Juan Carlos Iglesias Chouzas, ‘Gaddafi’, have been acquitted in application of the ‘Atristain doctrine’, since here the convictions did not add other elements of evidence.


The Basque Government began to progress ETA prisoners to third grade in February. Of the 18 cases, two have been revoked by the National High Court: Gorka Martínez Ahedo and José Ignacio Bilbao Gaubeca. The judge of Penitentiary Surveillance, José Luis de Castro, justified his decision in the lack of an express pardon to the victims of his crimes.

In response to the Prosecutor’s appeal, the National High Court stated that in the case of Martínez Ahedo, convicted of murder and for attempting to kill the former president of the Basque Parliament Juan María Atutxa on five occasions, “there is no manifestation of forgiveness for the victims of their criminal activity.

The judge recalled that the law requires as a “requirement” for the granting of the third degree an “express request for forgiveness to the victims” of the crime, as well as that Martínez Ahedo has only paid 160 euros of the more than 343,000 that correspond to him in concept civil liability.

Along the same lines, he expressed himself in relation to Bilbao Gaubeca, convicted of the crimes of attempted terrorist murder and havoc — he followed up to attack the former Interior Minister Juan María Atutxa and the president of the PP in Euskadi, Carlos Iturgaiz — and for a crime of terrorism committed within criminal organizations.

The National Court has revoked three other third degrees since October 2021, in this case granted at the initiative of Penitentiary Institutions, a body dependent on the Ministry of the Interior: Unai Fano, Jon Crespo and Iñigo Gutiérrez. The Criminal Chamber of the National High Court did not appreciate an “express regret” for the crimes committed and the damage caused.

The judges held that “a utilitarian purpose could not be ruled out” in the repentances to obtain prison benefits, given that they were “writings of a generic and superficial nature” where “the commission of terrorist crimes is linked in the field of what is called political struggle”.

From groups of victims they have also welcomed with concern the recent decision of the Criminal Chamber of the National Court, under the criteria of José Ricardo de Prada, to grant an exit permit against the criteria of the Central Surveillance Court for the Gorka ETA member. Loran Lafourcade. The magistrate argued that forgiveness “is not a legal requirement at all.”

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