Prisoner Iosu Uribetxebarria Bolinaga in his room at a hospital in San Sebastián. (Efe)
An appeal was presented to the Spanish Audiencia Nacional, the national criminal court, on Wednesday against the decision to release ETA prisoner Iosu Uribetxebarria Bolinaga, suffering from cancer. A prison supervision court had previously ruled that he should be released because of the seriousness of his illness.
This adds new controversy to the ‘Bolinaga case,’ which provoked a conflict in the governing Popular party earlier this week after Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz presented a report about the case to the party leadership.
The PP spokesperson in the European Parliament, and former interior minister, Jaime Mayor Oreja and Fernández Díaz had a heated exchange of views during the national executive committee meeting of the party leadership on Monday, in which the premier of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, and Foreign Minister José Manuel García Margallo also participated.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who gave support to his interior minister, did not respond to the opinions that were expressed by Mayor Oreja and Aguirre, criticizing the Ministry of Interior for allowing the release of the prisoner.
Bolinaga not under "imminent" risk
Bolinga, who was sentenced to 32 years in prison for the kidnapping of a prison guard, and another 178 years for the murder of three civil guards, was first granted ‘conditional liberty’ by the prison supervision court "for humanitarian reasons” and “personal dignity” because of the seriousness of his disease.
The prosecutor, Pedro Rubira, however, explained on Wednesday that he does not consider that the prisoner is under “imminent” risk and that although he suffers from a serious and incurable disease, his life is not immediately threatened. Also, he has not stated his repentance, which is required by the law, according to the prosecutor.
Spain’s Justice Minister Alberto Gallardón said on Wednesday that he welcomes the appeal, although without adding criticism against the interior minister.
Although the opinions of Mayor Oreja, as well as Aguirre, presented during the party leadership meeting on Monday, represent minorities in the party’s national executive committee, they are backed by a large part of PP’s voters, to whom this is a sensitive issue.
Heated debate during party meeting
During the meeting on Monday, Fernández Díaz claimed that former similar cases have been handled this way, even during the period when Mayor Oreja was interior minister in the government of José María Aznar. This statement re-launched the debate and Oreja, who, within the party, has expressed his own views on the issue for long, denied that ETA is defeated, as stated by the interior minister, and positioned himself on the other extreme, saying that far from defeated, the group is “reaching power,” with reference to the political victories by the Basque nationalist party Bildu in local Basque elections.
The premier of Madrid, Aguirre, agreed with Mayor Oreja and openly questioned that the law does not provide another solution if it had been interpreted in a more restrictive way.
The leader of the Basque section of PP, Antonio Basagoiti, and the foreign minister, García Margallo, however, strongly criticized Mayor Oreja. Margallo defended the government’s position and reproached Mayor Oreja for provoking a controversy over this issue publically instead of within the party. Basagoiti called for unity, recalling that this issue is particularly sensitive for the electoral campaign leading up to the regional elections in the Basque country on October 21.
The appeal by the public prosecutor puts the case at a standstill. Bolinaga is currently being treated for cancerous tumors at a hospital in San Sebastián, where he has been admitted since August 1.
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