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High Court orders release of 13 ETA terrorists under Strasbourg ruling

Chief justice fears “social alarm” as rapists and murderers also turned loose

Gallego leaves jail on Thursday.
Gallego leaves jail on Thursday. EFE

The High Court on Thursday approved the release of a further 13 ETA members under the terms of the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) decision to overturn the so-called Parot doctrine, a legal mechanism introduced in 2006 by which the Spanish authorities could avoid dangerous criminals and terrorists being released before they had served the 30-year maximum laid out in the 1973 criminal code.

The Supreme Court last week ratified the ECHR’s ruling and 32 life-term prisoners have now been released, 24 of whom were members of ETA. The case came to the Strasbourg court via lawyers acting for ETA assassin Inés del Río, whose release date in 2008 came and went as the authorities applied the Parot doctrine to her sentence. Essentially, the recourse applies sentence reductions for participating in courses and workshops to the 30-year incarceration limit to each individual count the prisoner was convicted for.

Among the ETA inmates freed was Inmaculada Noble, a member of the Madrid cell that unleashed a reign of terror on the capital in the 1980s, during the so-called “years of lead.” Del Río, who was sentenced to almost 4,000 years for her participation in 23 murders, was also a member of the cell.

But although it was an ETA terrorist that successfully appealed to Strasbourg against continued incarceration, the ECHR’s decision has also led to the release of some of Spain’s most notorious criminals. Also freed Thursday on the order of the Burgos and Madrid provincial High Courts were Pablo Manuel García Ribado, the “entrance hall rapist,” who had been sentenced to 2,970 years, and Pedro Luis Gallego Fernández, the “elevator rapist,” who was serving 273 years. Ribado was convicted in 1996 on 153 counts including rape, kidnapping, armed robbery and sexual aggression. In Spain’s largest ever rape trial, he was found guilty of attacking 53 women across Madrid between 1990 and 1993.

A total of 32 life-term inmates, including 24 ETA members, have now been released

Fernández was convicted for the rape and murder of 17-year-old Leticia Lebrato in Valladolid and 19-year-old Marta Obregón in Burgos during the 1990s, as well as 18 separate counts of sexual assault. The Burgos court applied the Parot doctrine to his sentence, by which he would have been eligible for release in 2022. Following the Strasbourg ruling, his sentence was recalculated and ended in August 2011.

In Pontevedra, the provincial court ordered the immediate release of two former policemen sentenced for the murders of local businessman David Fernández Grande, his wife Pilar Sanromán Fernández, their daughter Marta and their maid, Ana Isabel Costas Piñeiro.

On Friday, a Santiago de Compostela court ordered the immediate release of a man convicted in 1999 of raping his two daughters. Also at liberty is Pedro Antonio Seco Martínez, who committed three murders in the early 1990s.

The Popular Party government has made no attempt to hide its dissatisfaction with the ECHR ruling and party leaders in Madrid joined a protest of ETA victims associations in Madrid against the decision. Speaking on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister María Dolores de Cospedal said the government had done everything in its power to prevent the ruling, “which has alarmed everyone and made them angry.”

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón said this week that “no reproach” should be leveled at the judges ordering the releases as they are acting in accordance with a “binding jurisprudential judgment” handed down by a “higher legal body.” “Nobody should doubt the commitment to democracy and to the pain and suffering of the victims of our judicial system,” he added.

The chief justice of the High Court, Ángel Juanes, expressed his concern that the release of terrorists, murderers and rapists en masse would lead to “social alarm.”