Europe rules Otegi did not have fair trial in Spain

The Basque separatist leader and four more plaintiffs sued in Strasbourg the Spanish judges who had sent them to prison accusing them of lacking impartiality

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled in favor of Arnaldo Otegi and four more plaintiffs (Sonia Jacinto, Rafa Díez Usabiaga, Miren Zabaleta Tellería, and Arkaitz Rodríguez Torres), saying that Spain’s Audiencia Nacional violated their right to a fair trial in Spain. The Strasbourg-based court ruled on Tuesday that the Spanish court violated Article 6.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the "Right to an Equitable Process" when it tried them and sent them to prison in the Bateragune case. The five plaintiffs alleged that the Audiencia Nacional magistrates who tried them were not impartial in their judgement. At present, those convicted have already completed their sentences and been released from prison. In the case of Otegi, the leader of EH Bildu was given a ten year sentence in this case.

The case, brought by Otegi's defense, sought to clarify whether the actions of Justice Ángela Murillo, the Audiencia Nacional judge who sentenced the Basque politician for the Bateragune case, violated his basic rights. The defense alleged that her impartiality was contaminated by the prejudice shown in a previous trial against him. Otegi alleged that during the trial for paying homage to one of the leaders of ETA, 'Argala', Ángela Murillo asked Otegi if "he strongly condemned violence" and, in the face of his refusal to respond, the magistrate stated: "I already knew that you wouldn't answer this question". "I also knew that you would ask," the Basque leader replied. Otegi also denounced the alleged partiality of the president of the court, Francisco Pérez de los Cobos, for being a member of the PP, and of magistrate Antonio Narváez, who was the prosecutor who pursued the illegalization of Batasuna [a pro-independence Basque party]. The ECHR rejected these arguments completely, initially calling them "malicious", and admitted only the part related to the Audiencia Nacional.

In 2011 Madrid’s Audiencia Nacional rejected the recusal challenge lodged by the former Batasuna spokesman against these magistrates, aimed at preventing them from being the judges trying him for attempting to reconstruct the outlawed Batasuna through Bateragune. By seven votes to two, the panel comprising the president of the Audiencia Nacional, the presidents of individual courtrooms, and the most senior and most junior magistrate of each court, rejected the request after holding a closed door review to analyze if they would recuse Murillo, Palacios and Martel from the case.

Otegi presented the challenge after the Supreme Court overturned a ruling in which these three magistrates of the fourth section of the criminal chamber of the National Court condemned him to two years in prison for honoring the ETA prisoner José María Sagarduy, released after spending 30 years in prison, on July 9, 2005. The Supreme Court annulled the sentence, ruling that Murillo "pre-judged" Otegi's guilt when, in asking during the trial if he strongly condemned ETA's violence, the defendant replied that he would not answer the question and the judge replied: "As I expected", an expression that Court 69 considered did not imply generic ill will, so it could not be extrapolated to the rest of the procedures.

Otegi denounced on Twitter the great lie that, in his view, was built up during the trial, and which has resulted in a new setback for Spain: "They lied, built a false accusation, imprisoned us, we completed the sentence ... They imprisoned us for building a peaceful strategy. Today, their great lie is exposed. Our smile is wider, and Spain is portrayed as what it is: an anti-democratic state."

Catalan president Quim Torra welcomed the ECHR decision and used it to denounce the lack of guarantees of Spanish justice: "Very satisfied that Strasbourg has ruled in favor of @ArnaldoOtegi and the rest of those condemned in the #Bateragune case, because they did not have a fair trial nor an impartial tribunal. Spanish justice, increasingly questioned in Europe."

ERC calls on Spain to stop inviting "ridicule" and withdraw accusations for 1-O

"Today we have seen what Spanish justice is like: while calling for a Minister and a mayor to testify for having put the future of the country in the hands of the people, with ballot boxes, the ECHR ruled that the trial of Otegi was not fair. [...] and warned them that they violated his basic rights. The fact that we expected this does not take away from the failure of the Spanish State's process of repression and judicialization", said ERC spokesman Anna Caula.
Along the same lines, she made clear that, like Arnaldo Otegi's, the 1-O trial is not "fair", and called on the State to "withdraw unfounded accusations" against Catalonia’s pro-independence leaders and "not invite more international ridicule". Caula assured that the State "still has time to change course" and "vent the Spanish judicial system" after the ECHR “wake-up call". JxCat spokesman, Eduard Pujol, called directly for the release of the political prisoners and the return of exiles after seeing how European justice "has highlighted the lack of justice in Spain" with an "open-handed slap".

"The ECHR has shown that the Spanish judicial system needs a thorough reform", warned Jéssica Albiach, president of the parliamentary group Catalunya en Comú-Podemos. According to her, the ruling clearly shows that work must be done to "establish all the necessary mechanisms to guarantee the separation of powers". It is a new "setback" for Spanish justice that should invite them to reflect, according to En Comú Podemos, who have always been very critical of the "politicization of justice and the judicialization of politics".

Vidal Aragonés, a CUP representative, said that the ECHR ruling proves once again that "the whole of the Spanish judicial system and the apparatus of the Spanish State" is always "at the service of repression." He also added that the Spanish judicial system not only persecutes the right to self-determination and dissent, but also "represses the basic rights of the working classes and of social justice", as demonstrated by "the spectacle" surrounding the Supreme Court's review of the ruling on mortgage taxes.

C's denies that "a procedural error" cleans up Otegi's image

"Spain is a democratic country that passes all kinds of national and international tests," said Cs's spokesman in Parliament, Carlos Carrizosa. According to him, the Strasbourg statement "does not clean the image" of the Basque nationalist leader or ETA because, in Carrizosa's opinion, it simply points out "a procedural error." Ciutadans respects the ruling, but insists on the quality of Spanish democracy: "Spain is one of the countries with the fewest condemnatory rulings by the ECHR."

At a press conference in the Catalan Parliament, Carrizosa denied that the ruling should result in a thorough reform of the Spanish judiciary, "because it does not even mention compensation for Otegi." The spokesman for the orange party, who showed "no respect for the totalitarian ideas" of the leader of EH Bildu, complained that president Quim Torra is striving —according to him— to clean up Otegi's image by having photographs taken together.

In any case, Carrizosa admitted that, in a democracy such as Spain's, "even those who have committed the most execrable crimes" have the right to a fair trial that, according to the ECHR, Otegi was denied.

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