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Court rejects ‘terror’ charge in Spain bar brawl trial

A Spanish court sentenced eight people who beat up policemen in the Navarra region to between two and 13 years in jail Friday but rejected charges of “terror” that had caused outrage.

Prosecutors had sought a total of 375 years in prison for the accused, aged between 21 and 31 years old, on charges of “inflicting injuries of a terrorist-nature” and issuing “terrorist threats”, alleging an atmosphere of constant “harassment and pressure” against police in the area.

But the defence argued this was a mere bar brawl in October 2016 in Alsasua, a town in Navarra, a northern region in Spain that separatists in the neighbouring Basque Country — including armed group ETA — had long laid claim to.

The trial came as critics raised the alarm over what they say is the disproportionate use of counter-terrorism laws in Spain.

In their sentence, judges at Spain’s National Court, which deals with terror cases, found the accused guilty of “attacking agents of authority,” causing injuries, public disorder and/or threats.

But it rejected the terror charges.

The court “considers proven that the accused acted motivated by hostility and disdain for the Civil Guard (police force) and by clear ideological motives,” it said.

“But it finds that the terrorist purpose of their acts was not completely proven and nor were their links or belonging to ETA.”

The two policemen beaten up in 2016 were off duty and had gone to the bar with their girlfriends, when they were set upon by locals in a fight that saw one of the officers go to hospital with a broken ankle.

In its ruling sending the case to trial, a judge from Spain’s National Court said that at least two of the accused were part of a movement seeking to drive police out of town.

These types of movements were actively promoted by ETA when it targeted Spanish security forces, which it wanted out of what it considered its “country.”

Ruben Mugica, lawyer for the Covite association of ETA victims that brought the case to court, said in April when the trial opened that the severe charges were justified by “the context in which the attack happened.”

He told Spanish radio that the atmosphere “of permanent harassment” during the decades of ETA’s violent separatist campaign was still alive in some places today.

The defendants, though, denied any form of concerted action, with some claiming they did not even assault the policemen.