The fate of Inaki de Juana Chaos, a Basque terrorist who served 18 years for 25 murders, was hanging in the balance last night as he appeared near to death after 93 days on hunger strike.
For Basque nationalists, his treatment by the Spanish state is a travesty unworthy of a democracy. On the point of release from jail last year, De Juana Chaos was suddenly sentenced to 12 more years for two rambling articles he had written for a Basque newspaper.
If the Eta hard man dies, he will become a martyr for the Basque separatists and probably unleash a fresh round of bombings.
But if the Spanish government shows any sign of leniency with such a hated Eta figurehead, it may plunge the Socialists into their deepest crisis yet.
De Juana Chaos, the former head of the so-called "Madrid commando" of Basque separatists Eta, started his hunger strike after being convicted of making terrorist threats and jailed for a further lengthy stretch.
Though he had been sentenced to 3,000 years behind bars for a series of terrorist attacks, he served 18 years - the maximum sentence possible - and expected to be released. Prosecutors then brought a fresh case against the hardline former military head of the organisation, accusing him of making terrorist threats in newspaper articles. The articles were published in the pro-Eta newspaper Gara in December 2004.
In The Shield and Gallizo, De Juana Chaos made rambling threats to a number of prison governors and claimed Eta prisoners were being sexually tortured.
In The Shield, De Juana Chaos wrote: "Conniving judges, corrupt politicians, torture professionals, ruthless jailers, you are boring. You don't deserve any respect or consideration."
In Gallizo, he made a series of disparaging remarks about prison governors.
The court convicted him of making terrorist threats and he was handed the 12-year prison sentence, whose severity was based partly on his previous crimes. Back behind bars, De Juana Chaos started a hunger strike "to the death" last year during the fledgling peace process.
His fate has dominated debate in Spain this week after The Times interviewed De Juana Chaos in his secure prison hospital room and published a picture of the painfully thin terrorist.
In the interview, he said: "I am completely in agreement with the democratic process of dialogue and negotiation... to resolve the political conflict between the Basque region and the French and Spanish states."
But despite his apparent desire to see a peaceful end to the crisis which has claimed more than 800 lives, many in Spain, including Eta victims' groups, said De Juana Chaos showed no remorse.Reuse content