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EU Human Rights Court Could Free Jihadist in Spain

Driss Oukabir is only a few years into his 46-year prison term for his involvement in the 2017 jihadist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils. He rented the van that was used to run over innocent pedestrians, 16 of whom died while another 130 were injured. 

Now he is hoping a January ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will overturn his sentence, as it has those of other notorious terrorists in Spain—especially members of the Basque separatist organization, the ETA. 

Dubbed the ‘Atristain Doctrine,’ Oukabir’s lawyer is arguing that his client has suffered the same duress. The doctrine gets its name from ETA member Xabier Atristain, whose confession, obtained during a 5-day ‘incommunicado’ regiment, was ruled by the ECHR as inadmissible in court—during this form of isolation, the prisoner has no contact with a lawyer of his choice and the court-appointed lawyer is not provided information from law enforcement. Under the decision from the ECHR, Atristain was released from prison in January; then the ETA murderer ‘Gaddafi’ was acquitted in May. Everything indicates that a string of acquittals of other ETA terrorists will follow. 

Oukabir is also now appealing his sentence based on the ‘Atristain Doctrine.’ As in the cases of the ETA members, information key to his conviction was obtained from him while ‘incommunicado.’ 

But in the appeal, Oukabir’s lawyer goes further, predicting that “this pronouncement of the ECHR establishes jurisprudence, so that it will affect all prisoners convicted of terrorism in whose processes the period of five days of incommunicado detention has played a key role, as is the case in this case.”

For victims of terrorism, the sentence of the ECHR is devastating. Over Spain’s courts, there now looms a spectre condemning Spain to the vagaries of convicted terrorists, and the impossibility of convicting many others who cases are still being prosecuted.

Bridget Ryder is Spain-based writer. She has written on politics, environment, and culture for American and international publications. She holds degrees in Spanish and Catholic Studies.

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