1 August 2007

British court to rule in August on Basque political refugees

Three suspected members of the Basque armed group ETA will hear on Aug. 17 whether they are to be extradited to Spain to face terrorism charges, a British court said on Friday.

Ana Isabel Lopez, Zigor Ruiz and Inigo Albisu were arrested under a European warrant in the northern English city of Sheffield in April. Askatasuna, the Basque political prisoners and refugees support group, denounced the arrests and highlighted that three of them were living and working in England for a long while and they were refugees escaping from Spanish repression and torture.

The Spanish arrest warrant accuses them of being part of a "reserve" cell of ETA. The three, who remain in custody, seemed relaxed during their four-hour appearance at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London.

Defence counsel Richard Gordon argued there was no detailed evidence against them and that a confession implicating Ruiz in an attack on a Spanish naval base in February 2006 had been obtained from another ETA suspect under torture.

Prosecutor Melanie Cumberland rejected the allegations, stressing that Spain was a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. She also disputed arguments that the three, all Basques, were being prosecuted for their political beliefs. "Spain is a trusted extradition partner," she said.

Both parties said they would appeal if they lost the case.

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