In the last days, there has been insistence, especially by the left radical nationalism, on the fact that “one of the steps that, among others, has to be taken in the path to political normalization is guaranteeing respect to the rights of prisoners by bringing them closer to the Basque Country prisons, as well as granting them penitentiary benefits and provisional release.” Such idea, which seems to be currently shared, as we have stated, by many political parties and institutions, lacks foundation, based on the following considerations:
Under no circumstances, there can be a talk about a right for ETA prisoners to serve their sentence in prisons in the Basque Country. There is no legal rule, either at national or international level, recognizing such right for those prisoners. On the contrary, current legislation assigns only the penitentiary administration jurisdiction to appoint the different establishments to which the criminals shall be sent to or stay in.
The transfer of ETA prisoners would infringe, in many cases, the rights of the victims as well as violate the sentences earned by them in which the murderers are imposed a prohibition on approaching the places where their victims live. As Antonio Beristaín, eminent criminal lawyer and founder of the Basque Institute of Criminology, has said, “The victims, more often than not, especially in small cities, would feel morally aggrieved if any of the terrorists resided in a penitentiary institution near where they are. For example, when their victimizers enjoy exit permits, and/or when their relatives and friends demonstrate or protest in the vicinity of the prison….”
Having verified the fact that ETA has not been dissolved or surrendered arms, and taking into account the standpoint of the self defined “Colectivo de presos políticos vascos” [Group of Basque political prisoners], loyal observant of the band’s principles and unwilling to cooperate with Justice or acknowledge the damage caused, trying to carry out a concentration of prisoners sentenced for terrorism in a small number of prisons, in this case in the Basque Country, could derive in a lack of safety for the rest of the inmates as well as for the officers working in them. Moreover, it would hinder the prisoners’ reintegration into society, preventing, given the aforementioned concentration, their separation from ETA.
It is not an option either to request the granting of penitentiary benefits or the acknowledgment of provisional releases different from what our criminal law regulates. If ETA prisoners do no enjoy such benefits or are not granted provisional releases, it is, without any doubt, due to the fact that they do not comply with the requirements established by criminal laws. Trying to sort out or bend these laws is not welcome in a State of Law. If the radical left nationalism points out that “steps have to be taken towards peace” -their peace, since there have never been two opposite fractions in the Basque Country-, it should first be aware of the fact that without Justice, there can be no peace and that Justice requires, in the aforementioned case, compliance with the legal requirements corresponding to the demands they are making. It is not an option to give lip service to the notion of “peace process” and, at the same time, deny the application of Justice since it is hardly possible to achieve peace overlooking Justice.
Having said the foregoing, it is not logical, due to lacking legality and legitimacy, to support the demands of those in favour of ETA since their requirements try to minimize the consequences of one of the most serious crimes of all: the crime of terrorism. ETA terrorism does not constitute, as some wish for, a “political conflict,” but, on the contrary, we are faced with a very serious crime, their authors and accomplices being not mere political criminals but common criminals who deserve the criminal-legal penalties and the penitentiary measures applicable to them in accordance with current legislation.