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Spanish government transfers two ETA prisoners to Basque Country

Critics say move is tied to Basque nationalists’ support for no-confidence vote that placed Pedro Sánchez in power

Presos ETA
Family members of ETA prisoners protest for prison transfers.

The Spanish government has begun to ease the dispersion policy long applied to the now-disbanded Basque terror group ETA. The Socialist (PSOE) administration of Pedro Sánchez has decided to transfer two former ETA members, Olga Sanz Martín and her partner Javier Moreno Ramajo, from their current prison in Villabona, in Asturias, to Basauri in the Basque Country.

Both are serving sentences for attempting to assassinate Juan María Atutxa, a former chief of home affairs for the Basque government, and Carlos Iturgaiz, former president of the Popular Party (PP) in the Basque Country.

PP leader Pablo Casado has said he would oppose any prison transfers

The government of Pedro Sánchez has also announced that more ETA convicts will be brought to prisons closer to home before the end of the summer.

The decision was not well received by the PP or by the victims association Covite. “The transfers were put on the agenda by the Socialist Party after [Basque] nationalists supported the no-confidence motion, and this creates mistrust,” said Amaya Fernández, the PP secretary general in the Basque province of Bizkaia, alluding to the no-confidence vote that ousted the PP from the central government and replaced it with a PSOE administration in early June.

The government delegate in the Basque region, Jesús Loza, said that authorities are simply observing the law, not awarding any special benefits. Loza noted that existing legislation allows for transfers if inmates meet certain conditions: severing their ties with ETA, apologizing to their victims, agreeing to cooperate with unsolved crimes, and having served two thirds of their sentence.

But assassination target Carlos Iturgaiz, who is now a member of the European Parliament, has sent a letter of complaint to Spain’s interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska. “To my surprise, today I have heard the news about the transfer to Basque prisons and the awarding of an open regime to two terrorists from the criminal group ETA, accused among other things of trying to assassinate me when I was president of the Popular Party in the Basque Country,” he wrote.

Moreno Ramajo and Sanz Martín were arrested in 1998 for trying to kill two politicians

ETA ended its armed activity in 2011 and announced its complete dissolution in May of this year, ending a 59-year campaign for the independence of the Basque Country that killed over 800 people and injured thousands more. ETA was also behind kidnappings, acts of sabotage, threats and extortion.

Government delegate Jesús Loza described the decision to transfer the two inmates as “the first gesture” from the new Spanish government to illustrate its penitentiary policy. Speaking to news agency EFE on Tuesday, Loza said the inmates were an “example” to show other ETA prisoners “the path forward” to reintegration.

The Basque regional government has welcomed the move and encouraged the government to transfer more ETA prisoners. But Pablo Casado, leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), has announced he would oppose any prison transfers.

Moreno Ramajo and Sanz Martín were arrested in 1998 in Bilbao and sentenced in 2002 by Spain’s high court, the Audiencia Nacional, to 74 years and 71 years, respectively.

English version by Melissa Kitson and Susana Urra.

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