A Belfast judge has thrown out attempts to have a Basque man extradited to face political charges in Spain.
Arturo Villanueva Arteaga was being sought over claims he was linked to ‘Jarrai’, a youth organisation accused of being linked to the ETA armed group.
Belfast Recorder Judge Tom Burgess ruled a European Arrest Warrant issued against the 33-year-old was invalid.
He said there was lack of details about attendance at meetings, interviews or other evidence that Mr Arteaga was in the Jarrai group.
Although the warrant claimed Mr Arteaga carried out “violent and coercive actions” from 1994 to 2000, Judge Burgess said the Spanish authorities provided no dates, locations or targets of any alleged attacks which would allow anyone to link them to him.
Lawyers for the Spanish authorities have seven days to appeal the ruling.
Mr Arteaga has been living in Ireland for six years and runs a tourism business.
He said the ruling highlighted human and civil rights issues in how Spain deals with this type of case.
“The way the Spanish judiciary and Spanish authorities deal with these sort of political cases has been proven (to be) not the right way, and they breach any kind of principles,” he said outside the court.
“Not just myself, but many different lawyers and international bodies, year after year, have been calling attention to the Spanish authorities to improve on matters of human rights and judicial rights for any legal cases relating to the Basque conflict.”
He said he had always worked “politically, peacefully and publicly in defence of Basque youth rights and in defence of Basque national rights”.
The same judge is also considering a Spanish attempt to extradite a former Basque political prison Jose Ignacio de Juana Chaos.
The 54-year-old is wanted over claims he “glorified terrorism”, which carries a two-year jail sentence.
Sinn Fein welcomed the news which it said “highlights the spurious and politically motivated nature of the charges brought against both Arturo Villaneuva and Inaki de Juana by the Spanish authorities”
“The two men are essentially being pursued solely for their political ideas and the extradition attempts on behalf of the Spanish authorities, in both cases, should be wholly rejected,” said MEP Bairbre de Brun.
“It further exposes the ongoing repression within the Basque Country where social, youth, media and political groups alike are made illegal and repressed with many members being imprisoned.
“It is Sinn Fein’s belief that the Spanish government should desist from such actions and focus upon exploring the unconditional declaration of support for a peaceful, political and democratic process by the Basque Abertzale Left grouping this week.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has called for the release of Basque political leaders and backed calls for a renewed peace process for the troubled region, including the adoption of the Mitchell Principles which from the basis of the Irish peace process.
Recent events in the Basque country and the Spanish state have included the arrest of leading Basque political activists, including leaders Arnaldo Otegi and Rufi Etxeberria of the ‘outlawed’ Batasuna political party, as well as a series of human rghits abuses.
Otegi and four others arrested at the same time remain in custody. Etxeberria and the other four were released on bail. Both men have made key statements on the current political situation this month.
“The ongoing violence, deaths, human rights abuses and arrests will not bring about a resolution of the conflict in the Basque country. But fifty years of conflict indicate that this scenario could continue indefinitely into the future,” said Mr Adams.
“The only victory attainable for the Madrid Government and Basque nationalists is the achievement of a framework and process in which political differences can be addressed and dealt with by purely political means.
“The recent arrest of Arnaldo Otegi and his colleagues is in my view an obstacle to that goal. I have known Arnaldo Otegi for some years now. I believe him to be a peacemaker.
“I believe that view is shared by the many thousands of protestors, of differing political allegiances, who publicly demonstrated against his arrest. I believe that recent public positions set out by Otegi and Rufi Etxeberria are positive indicators of a willingness to pursue and confront all of the challenges and difficulties inherent in building and developing a peace process. And this is never going to be easy.
“I am therefore calling for the unconditional release of Arnaldo Otegi and his colleagues to allow them to pursue this important task. They must be given the space to develop the substance of the ‘new phase, new strategies and new instruments’ to achieve ‘a new framework in the Basque activists’ country’. Protagonists on both sides have to create that space. But especially Basque independentists who should do this - and understand that they are doing it - for themselves, the Basque people, and for their objectives as opposed to doing it for Madrid.
“Given that space the groundswell of popular Basque opinion in support of Otegi points to the vehicle for future forward movement.”
Mr Adams also welcomed what he said was the “unconditional declaration of support for a peaceful, political and democratic process” by Ezker Abertzalea, a new representative grouping.
“Today’s statement from Abertzale Left is a welcome development. It is a positive and important public declaration which envisages a route out of the current ongoing conflict,” he said.
“In particular I welcome the Abertzale Left declaration that the only way to arrive at a democratic solution is through the democratically expressed will of the people and their commitment to respect any decision freely and peacefully made by Basque citizens.
“Their unconditional declaration of support for a peaceful, political and democratic process should be welcomed by the friends of the Basque and Spanish peoples, by all friends of the quest for peace in the Spanish State.
“So too the commitment to support the Mitchell Principles as a governing instrument in future dialogue aimed at securing a democratic outcome by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.
“This political initiative needs space to bloom. I reiterate my call in recent days for all involved to create the space. An important first step has been taken as part of a process.”