A TRIAL of more than 40 people accused of having links to the now-dissolved armed Basque independence group Eta ended abruptly in less than half-an-hour in Madrid yesterday when a plea deal was reached to reduce their sentences.

Prosecutors at Spain’s National Court had been seeking sentences of more than 600 years for 47 doctors, psychologists, lawyers and political activists who were charged with collaborating with or belonging to Eta. The deal will see only two remaining in prison.

Lawyers Arantza Zulueta and Jon Enparantza were said to be responsible for the co-ordinating group of the so-called “prison front” – said by prosecutors to be a key part Eta’s overall strategy.

They have been in detention since January 2014 and will serve a further five months. All the accused and their supporters claimed the allegations of supporting or financing terrorism were a bid to criminalise people who were advocates of the human rights of Basque political prisoners, fugitives and their families, as well as victims of torture and others affected by state violence.

Eta announced a permanent ceasefire in 2011 and formally declared its dissolution in 2018, after a 50-year conflict with the Spanish state. It also said it would pursue purely political means to achieve its goal of independence for the Basque country.

Hundreds of Basque political prisoners remain in jail and many others live a fugitive existence outside Spain.

Around 50,000 people staged a demonstration in Bilbao on Saturday ahead of the start of the trial, claiming it was persecution of the Basque independence movement.

One of the 11 lawyers defending the 47, Iker Urbina, had argued that the prosecution’s accusation of terrorism was politically motivated and legally inconsistent, as all related to activity from 2012.

He said: “The acts which the defendants are accused of happened after Eta publicly declared the cessation of its armed activities in 2011 … and had already expressed its willingness to disappear.”