The Spanish Supreme Court [official site, in Spanish] on Wednesday denied legal status to new political party, Sortu, in response to the government's concerns that its links to the Basque separatist group ETA [Global Security backgrounder; JURIST news archive] had not been completely severed. ETA is an organization committed to fighting for full nationhood of the Basque region of Spain and France. Spanish and French authorities have proscribed this group as a terrorist organization that is blamed for the deaths of over 800 people. According to the court, Sortu is a successor of the banned ETA-linked party Batasuna [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Sortu was created following ETA's January declaration of a permanent ceasefire [CNN report] in Spain and was in response to ETA pro-independence groups deciding against violent measures as an effective way to seek an independent Basque state. Although Sortu has rejected violence, the court's concerns that the ETA has not permanently disbanded prevents the court from taking the new political party seriously. The court's ruling will bar Sortu from participating in May's upcoming elections. Sortu will be able to appeal the court's decision, but the appeals court will unlikely reach a verdict before the elections. The court will release its reasoning for denying Sortu legal status later this week.
ETA killings and attacks have dramatically declined in Spain and France in the past few years in response to increased judicial crackdowns, which are largely responsible for weakening the group. Most notably, in December a French court sentenced [JURIST report] former ETA Basque separatist leader Mikel Albizu Iriarte to 20 years in prison. In the same month, a French appeals court sentenced another former ETA leader, Jose Antonio Urrutikoetxea, to seven years in prison for association with a terrorist organization. Last year, the Spanish National Court [official website, in Spanish] sentenced [JURIST report] Arnaldo Otegi, a former leader of Batasuna , to two years in prison for promoting terrorism. In June 2009 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] upheld [JURIST report] Spain's ban of Basque political groups Batasuna and Herri Batasuna for their alleged ties to ETA.