WO Spanish bishops have demanded that General Franco's T Government should call off the trial by military tribunal of 16 alleged Basque terrorists — including two priests accused of banditry and terrorism, and try them in a civil court, where they could expect milder sentences,
A pastoral letter, signed by Bishop Argaya of San Sebastian and Bishop Cirarda of Santander, Apostolic Administrator of Bilbao, was read on Sunday in every church of the dioceses of Guipuzco-a and Biscay.
The bishops said: "We have appealed several times to the Chief of Sta■s, petitioning that the trial be held in an ordinary court." A military tribunal would deal out far harsher sentences for the same crime.
They added that when the alleged crimes were committed the special law against banditry and terrorism had not yet been enforced.
TRIAL POSTPONED The military prosecutor has demanded six death sentences and an aggregate jail term of 752 years for the defendants. The court martial trial, tentatively planned to start in Burgos on Monday, has been postponed, but no new date has yet been announced.
Some lawyers for the defendants said they thought it might be held late this week or early in December. The two bishops said they were not asking "leniency for any proved crime".
Opposition sources said that
thatstatement upheld theories that the only evidence against the defendants had been
obtained through jail confessions "under duress".
A Ministry of Justice spokesman, commenting on the Bishops' stand, said on Saturday: "Comparing subversive violence with the government's measures to enforce the law is a very grave attitude."
GENERAL STRIKE CALL Leaflets were distributed in the Basque province last week calling for a general strike when the trial opens. Members of the Basque Committee in
London are pla nning demonstrations and possibly a hunger strike.
The accused have been in prison for up to 18 months. As the trial approaches, demonstrations in Spain have
increased. Churches have been occupied in and around Bilbao and public buildings daubed in San Sebastian.
A member of the Basque Committee in London said : "It is not just political movements which are involved. It is the whole people."
Thirteen of the accused have been taken to Burgos from other Spanish jails. The three still awaited include the two priests, who are in the "clerical wing" of Zamora jail.
The third is a woman, Maria Aranzazu, who is said to be seriously ill in Madrid's psychiatric prison ward as a result of police torture. Charges against her are likely to be dropped.
The final decision on whether the trial should be in a civil court rests with General Franco. He has already yielded to pressure from the Catholic hierarchy and the Vatican to allow a public hearing.
The foreign Press and international observers will be admitted.
DISAPPOINTED Relatives of the 16 jailed Basques left Rome last week disappointed at not having been received in audience by Pope Paul.
Vatican officials said they could not arrange an audience because there was no gap in his engagements before leaving for his trip to Asia and Australia.
Fr. Juan Maria Arregui, the spokesman for the group of ten relatives, said they had hoped that at least one of them could have met the Pope to give him "a word of truth, of justice, of freedom for the Basque people and for those prisoners who will be tried on the basis of confessions extorted by torture."