26 December 2009

Belfast Basque Solidarity Committee send solidarity at Christmas to Basque Political Prisoners

The Belfast Basque Solidarity Committee has joined with Coiste na n-Iarchimí in a campaign  that will see messages of support and solidarity at Christmas time sent to Basque prisoners, in Spain, France and the Basque Country.

Speaking on behalf of the initiative, Kevin Morrison from the Belfast Basque Solidarity Committee said:

“Each year the Belfast Basque Solidarity Committee send messages of solidarity to Basque political prisoners who are held in over 80 jails across France, Spain and the Basque country.  This year we are very happy to have the support of Coiste na n-Iarchimí.

“Together with Coiste we have designed a poster which reflects messages of solidarity from ex prisoners from Ireland that also expresses the sense of community between those who face political persecution for their beliefs.

“This year has seen many more people enter prisons, especially in Spain and the Basque Country due to a large amount of arbitrary arrests of people in political parties, social and youth groups and journalists. While this has been a fact of life over in the past number of years, this year has seen a marked increase in arrests and imprisonments.

“We hope that the sending of these messages will in some way help ease the burden of those in jail over the Christmas period and let them know that people from around the world have not forgotten them.”

Adding to this Michael Culbert, Director of  of Coiste na n-Iarchimí said: at

“Obviously from an ex-prisoners support group we have at first hand experience, of prisoner difficulties and the hardship and isolation they may face, but this can be especially acute at Christmas time.

“We are only too pleased to be asked to help out with this initiative and send these messages of support and solidarity.”

24 December 2009

Ancient Basque traditions remain alive and strong over winter solstice

For the Basque people, Christmas has always been one of the best-loved holidays of the year. Having the whole family round for Christmas dinner, our carols and our ancient customs, such as Olentzero, have always been at the centre of the celebrations. As Basques we live with great intensity, and for us Christmas means festivals "par excellence".

Nowadays, as in the rest of the world, Christmas has become a very consumerist affair, but in the Basque Country it is something more as well: It is the reflection of a country's history, with traditions that have been handed down by our ancestors, and which still remain in many families. It's also a time to remember those who are away from home, specially the Basque political prisoners and exiles. All across the country hundreds of vigils are organised in Christmas eve in support of them and relatives and friends carry their pictures and banners at the Olentzero parades.

The Christmas tree remains one of the key references this time of year in the Basque Country. Our parents can still remember the wood being collected in Autumn, and the way in which the best tree was taken home still intact. This custom continues. Now there is no need for a heifer to drag the tree back home, but many homes are decorated with a Christmas tree. The tree is typical of northern Europe, but reflects the fondness Basques have for the Christmas tree tradition.

But undoubtedly the tradition most deeply rooted in the Basque Country is that of "Olentzero" or coal man. On Christmas Eve, throughout virtually all Basque towns and villages, the figure of a shepherd or a coal man is lifted up, sitting in a basket, onto the shoulders of people who take it from house to house; at every house it passes, the young people accompanying the Olentzero stop to sing a Christmas carol.

In Navarre, for example, the Olentzero is a coal man who comes down from the mountains to hand out chestnuts and wine, and of course presents for the little ones. He is a mythical Basque character; a messenger; a shepherd who cries out that it is Christmas time in all the corners of the Basque Country. But he is not only a shepherd; in some parts he is a farm worker and in others he is the coalman; either way, they are all bringers of good news.

The Olentzero has also been associated with many other beliefs and customs, such as the deeply-rooted tradition of Basque cuisine. In Salvatierra in Alava, for example, the Olentzero is a coalman who, after having lived a hard life up in the mountains, comes back to his village to bring good news and at the same time have a great feast to make up for the hunger which he has suffered.

This mythical character has a big head, a large belly and, according to local traditions, is capable of drinking ten "arrobas" (one arroba is about twenty-five pounds in weight) of wine. In Hondarribia, aside from carrying a pipe, a capon, some eggs and a bottle of wine, he usually has a tail made of cod, and if a village erects an Olentzero for Christmas, a barbecue is usually set up next to him where sardines are handed out free of charge.

Christmas carols also make up an important part of the festivities. The idea is that they represent a cheerful greeting which is taken from house to house; a verse is dedicated either to the whole family or to one special member. These songs continue to be sung in all Basque families.

Demand for official Basque national teams

Well known sport men and women, clubs, political parties and social organizations demand the right to have official Basque national teams and organise a massive event in the Donostia/San Sebastian's velodrome on the 27th of December.

There is huge support for Basque national teams with some like the football squad playing friendly international matches every year. Despite this the Spanish and French federations block any attempt to gain international official recognition.

Basque political prisoner attempts suicide

Basque political prisoner Igor Gonzalez attempted to commit suicide last Tuesday. His personal psychologist had visited him the previous day and had asked the prison staff to look after him due to his terrible condition. The warnings were ignored and Igor cut his veins the next morning.

Despite this he was later on the same day transferred to an unknown jail.

The Basque prisoners' solidarity groups have denounced the lack of medical assistance and the hard living conditions they live in.

21 December 2009

Thousands rally in support of the Egunkaria five

Around 30,000 people took part in a national demonstration last Saturday in Bilbao to support those indicted in the Egunkaria case. The Basque language Egunkaria was closed down by the Spanish authorities in 2003 and ten members of the administration council and editorial team were arrested and tortured. Some of them were also imprisoned.

Last Monday a trial started against five of them, including director Martxelo Otamendi. They face up to 14 years in jail.

All Basque political parties and trade unions except the pro-Spanish unionists parties PSOE and PP and trade union UGT took part in the rally.

18 December 2009

Day Two of the Egunkaria trial

From Ainara Gorostitzu of the Egunkaria defence campaign.

Day 2 of the trial in the Egunkaria case, in Madrid

The Guardia Civil (Spanish police) has not submitted any evidence to link Egunkaria with ETA

--The Prosecutor did not question the Police officers today, either, because he has found no evidence of any crime in the Egunkaria case

--The trial is set to resume on January 12

"I don’t remember requesting that a newspaper be closed down, but if that’s what it says in the report, I must have requested 'Egunkaria' to be closed down", said a Guardia Civil officer today on day two of the trial against Egunkaria in reply to a question put to him by the defence counsel. Today’s session started at 10:26 and adjourned at 12:20, and one of the four police officers failed to show up. The examining Judge Juan del Olmo based his decision to close down 'Egunkaria' on 20 February 2003 on a report filed by the Guardia Civil. The Prosecutor did not question Iñaki Uria, Xabier Oleaga, Martxelo Otamendi, Joan Mari Torrealdai and Txema Auzmendi, the indictees who ran the Basque-language newspaper yesterday, either, and they confirmed that they had had no connection with ETA. The indictees were informed that the trial would resume on January 12.

Today it was the turn of the Spanish Guardia Civil in the trial against Egunkaria being held at the National Criminal Court in Madrid. The Guardia Civil closed down the Basque-language daily on the orders of Juan del Olmo of the Spanish National Criminal Court; yet the examining judge had taken a report drawn up by the Guardia Civil as the basis, and the police officers in court today referred to it. They confirmed that there was a connection between Egunkaria and ETA but did not submit any evidence. One of the officers testifying today had requested the judge to close down the paper. What is more, this was the Guardia Civil officer who had taken statements from Joan Mari Torrealdai, Iñaki Uria, Txema Auzmendi and Xabier Oleaga while the four were being held incommunicado.

Today’s session lasted two hours and the trial is to be adjourned until January. In addition to the failure of the police officers to submit evidence, the same thing as yesterday happened: the Prosecutor Miguel Angel Carballo did not question anyone today, decided not to ask the Guardia Civil officers any question, and informed the judge accordingly. Iñigo Iruin, the defence lawyer, asked the investigating Guardia Civil officer whether he had ordered Egunkaria to be closed down and he said he could not remember. "I don’t remember requesting that a newspaper be closed down, but if that’s what it says in the report, and it says I did it, I must have requested 'Egunkaria' to be closed down", replied the officer. The other two spoke along similar lines. The last one only testified for a few minutes.

Yesterday’s session. Yesterday was the first day of the trial, the most important news was that the Prosecutor did not ask the five Egunkaria indictees any questions. It was the reflection of how he had acted in the proceedings, because he had requested at the time that the case be dropped –so had the defence counsel– arguing that there were no crimes to answer. What is more, the indictees confirmed that they had had no links with ETA, which is what the private prosecutions brought by the organisations, Dignidad y Justicia and the AVT, are accusing them of. Yesterday, only the five indictees testified: Iñaki Uria, Xabier Oleaga, Martxelo Otamendi, Joan Mari Torrealdai and Txema Auzmendi. They did not answer the questions put to them by Dignidad y Justicia and the AVT, but they did reply to the questions put to them by the defence counsel. No prosecution has been brought by individuals or organisations affected in this case. Yet the panel of judges decided on July 30 that the trial should go ahead and that is what has been taking place since yesterday.

Following today’s session there will not be any more until 12 January (Tuesday) as announced by the panel of judges. That is when the Egunkaria witnesses currently in prison will be testifying. The sessions will then be held from January 25 to 29. In the proceedings, prison terms are being sought only by Dignidad y Justicia and the AVT; prison terms of between 12 and 14 years for each of the indictees, and disqualification for 14-15 years (a ban on holding public positions and standing in elections) because they are regarded as being members of ETA. Javier Gomez Bermudez heads the panel of judges, the other judges being Ramon Saez Valcarcel and Manuela Fernandez Prado.

16 December 2009

This week's Basque Info podcast now available

Listen to this week's Basque Info podcast with the latest news and an interview with Ógra Shinn Féin member Dave Collins about his experiences in the Basque Country in the aftermath of the arrests of 36 pro-independence youth activists.

Trial against Basque language newspaper Egunkaria begins.

On 3rd February 2003, the Spanish police ordered the definitive closure of Euskaldunon Egunkaria, the only daily newspaper published in the Basque language. This was followed by the arrest of ten people. All of them were well known and respected Basque language and culture activists, journalists and writers. One of them is a Jesuit brother.

They were held incommunicado for five days under the anti-terrorist law. Some of them were imprisoned and others later released. One of them, the newspaper’s director, told journalists at the prison gates he had been savagely tortured. His words and his shattered appearance shocked Basque society.

The operation was ordered by the Spanish National Court on the grounds that Egunkaria allegedly formed part of a wider group of businesses and organisations controlled by ETA – the old “all is ETA” motto.

Immediately after the closure hundreds of protests took place across the Basque Country, including what was probably the largest demonstration ever to take place in the country two days after the closure.

Nearly four years later on 15th December 2006, the National Court Prosecutor determined that there were no grounds for the case and requested a stay of proceedings.

Despite this, six months later a court hearing was officially announced.
In the hearing it was concluded that only five of those arrested would finally go to trial: Joan Mari Torrealdai, ex-President of the administrative council of Egunkaria; Iñaki Uria, ex-Managing Director; Txema Auzmendi, former Administrative Council Secretary; Martxelo Otamendi, ex-Director; and Xabier Oleaga, former deputy director.

The trial begun yesterday Tuesday 15th in Madrid, with the accused facing sentences of between 12 and 14 years in prison, in addition to a further 14 to 15-year ban from practicing journalism. For the last months many support events have been organised and the presence of the leaders of the majority of Basque political parties and trade unions and education, culture and language movements’ representatives at the gates of the Spanish National Court yesterday was proof of the broad support they have in Basque society.

The hearing began with the testimonies of the accused who stated the newspaper was created by the Basque language grass roots movement to fill the crucial vacuum of a newspaper written in the national language and without any intervention by ETA.

They also told the court how they had been subjected to torture while detained incommunicado but the judges ordered them not to talk about this.

Aside from the accusations that form the basis of Tuesday's trial, there are further charges of attempting to falsify accounts and defraud the Treasury, of which eight defendants stand accused.

They could face up to between 13 and 26 years in prison and possible fines of between 21 and 33 million euro. The date for this trial is yet to be announced.

More info: http://egunkaria.info/international/

Thousands against repression and political trials.

Following the same policies imposed by George W. Bush around the world with his “preventive wars”, from 2003 to 2005 116 Basque pro-independence citizens were arrested and most of them tortured and imprisoned in the so-called “preventive” police operations. They were accused of being potential members of ETA.

2,500 people took part in a demonstration in Iruñea/Pamplona last Saturday to show support for two local youths who are being judged along with another 11 people in one of the first trials for the preventive arrests.

The march was organised with the slogan “Yes to the possible development of all political projects”. Other banners carried slogans like “No to political trials” and “Stop torture”.

Demonstration in Iruñea/Pamplona last Saturday.

2,500 people took part in another demonstration the same day in Donostia/San Sebastian to show support for the many local youth who will stand trial over the next months for their political work within the youth movement. They are accused of being members of the banned pro-independence organization Segi. Around 150 young people have been arrested for the same reason over the last two years across the Basque Country. They face sentences of eight years in jail.

The first trial against Segi activists took place in 2005 and 23 were sentenced to six years in jail. Ten of those youth activists were released last week after doing their six-year sentences to the full. Others were released during 2009, five more were arrested while on the run and sentenced last month and another one, Arturo “Benat” Villanueva, is fighting an extradition warrant in Belfast. Despite the extradition being declared invalid by a Belfast judge the prosecution appealed. Last Monday a hearing was held at the High Court and a decision will be made in the next few weeks.

Strength of Basque culture and political commitment showed at the Improvisers Final.

Last Sunday 15,000 people filled the Barakaldo Exhibition Centre near Bilbao for the four-yearly Basque language Improvisers Final and dozens of thousands followed the show on TV, radio and internet.
The seven-hour-long event ended with victory for the 33-year-old Maialen Lujanbio, the first woman ever to win the championship. Bertsolaritza or the practice of improvised singing is hugely popular in the Basque Country and it’s a great example of the old Basque traditions that have survived for centuries despite repression.
During this historical and highly emotional final some subjects appeared repeatedly: solidarity with the Basque political prisoners, against torture, support for those indicted in the Egunkaria case and calls for unity in favour of independence.

The eight bertsolaris' (improvisers) entrance and first bertsos (verses).

Moving  farewell bertso of champion Maialen Lujanbio.

10 December 2009

Basque Info radio program available

Listen to this week's Basque Info radio program with the lastest news and a tribute to great Basque song writer Mikel Laboa on the first anniversary of his death.

New information about Jon Anza on the 8th month of his disappearance.

Eight months ago former Basque political prisoner Jon Anza went missing after boarding a train in Baiona (northern Basque Country) going to the French city of Toulouse. He never made it to his destination. Soon after his family made public the nature of his disappearance. ETA released a statement claiming Jon Anza was a member of the armed organization and that the police were well aware of it. In fact he disappeared on his way to a meeting with other members of the organization. ETA claimed that the Spanish police were responsible for his disappearance. Jon Anza had cancer and was almost blind at the time.

The Basque newspaper Gara reported a month ago that following reliable sources Jon Anza was kidnapped by the Spanish police, interrogated and killed and then buried somewhere in France.

Last week the prestigious French newspaper Le Monde published an article about the Jon Anza case. The article breaks the official silence imposed by the Spanish and French governments surrounding the disappearance and brings new information about the investigation.

Among other new aspects the article carries extracts of an interview with the French prosecutor. She says she’s astonished at the lack of evidence found on the case, but despite this she believes the French police are doing their job. The Spanish authorities never informed the French Jon was an ETA member and it caused great surprise to the French police when the armed organization claimed his membership.

According to the article the French had kept some sort of surveillance on Jon but due to his serious illness thought he wasn’t involved in ETA.

During the eight months of his disappearance a huge campaign of demonstrations and protests has been organised and posters with Jon’s face and the question “Where is Jon?” written on it cover the walls across the Basque Country.

At least another four pro-independence activists have been kidnapped, threatened and tortured by police forces during the past 12 months.

Youth unites against repression.

Two weeks ago 36 Basque pro-independence youth activists were arrested in the largest police operation in decades. The Spanish authorities’s objective was to destroy the Basque youth movement. Among those arrested are activists involved in the student movement, youth squatted houses, community radios, Basque culture and language, community festivals, alternative music, feminist groups...

All of them were acussed of being members of the banned pro-independence youth organization Segi and a huge media criminalization campaign surrounded the arrests.

Most of them stated they were tortured, girls were even subjected to sexual abuse and finally 32 were imprisoned. Some of the youth who escaped the police operation were arrested just metres away from the Spanish National Court where they were going to surrend themselves, then taken incommunicado and reported tortures thereafter.

The response was immediate and hundreds of protests took place across the Basque Country. More than 20,000 people took part in a national demonstration in Bilbao organised by the detainees’ relatives.

Last weekend 2,000 people took part in another demonstration organised by the youth movement in Durango during the Basque Book and Album Fair. Dozens of youth groups had previously signed a petition to claim their right to organise against the capitalist system and for Basque freedom. 50 international youth groups showed their support too and some of them took part in the rally. Among them were Ógra Shin Féin representatives. The Irish youth organization also organised solidarity protests over the weekend in Derry, Cork, Fermanagh and Galway. Previously more protests took place in Omagh, Lurgan, Strabane, Limerick, Dungannon, Belfast and Dublin.

Calls for pro-independence unity during the Spanish Constitution Day.

While the Spanish authorities celebrated in Madrid the 31st anniversary of the approval of the Spanish constitution Basque nationalist forces spoke of it as an imposition. In the 1978 referendum the constitution didn’t get the support of the majority of the Basque people and it’s been considered not legitimate in the Basque Country since then.

The Spanish constitution doesn’t recognised the Basque people’s rights like self-determination, declares the unbreakable unity of the state and the ultimate defence of it by the army. The Franco regime’s structures such as the army, judiciary and police remained untouched.

At a press conference organised during the Spanish Constitution Day the Basque Pro-Independence Left said that the asimilation process started in 1978 has failed and that nowadays the majority of Basque political and social force are in favour of a new democratic framework for the Basque Country. Speakers at the press conference said that now it’s time to take new and concrete commitments and to define the way to make that new political situation possible.

Harassment against Basque political prisoners’ relatives increases.

More than 160 visits have been denied to Basque political prisoners’ relatives and friends during the past month. Relatives and friends are being subjected to humilliating searches on their way to visits due to new measures introduced by the Spanish authorities. The relatives are opposing the searches and subesquently they can’t attend visits after travelling for hundreds of miles. There are 598 Basque political prisoners scattered in almost 60 jails in Spain and another 161 prisoners in 25 French jails.

The Basque prisoners have begun different protests to confront the harassment against their relatives such as a communication strike and lock ups in their cells.

3 December 2009

This week's Basque Info radio program now available

Listen to this week's Basque Info with the lastest news and an interview with Iratxe Urizar from Behatokia, the Basque Human Rights Watchdog.

2 December 2009

20,000 people support the youth movement.

In the early hours of Tuesday November 24, 35 Basque pro-independence youth activists were arrested by 950 Spanish policemen in the largest police operation in decades. More than 100 premises were searched and seven more young weren’t in their homes at the time of the raids.

All of them were accused of being members of the leadership of Segi, the banned pro-independence and socialist youth organisation. Similar operations happened in 2001 and 2002 against the alleged leaderships of the youth movement and another 16 operations were carried out over the past two years against local groups of Segi. Hundreds of young people have been arrested, many tortured and most of them imprisoned for solely political work.

Protests were organised across the Basque Country during the week including school strikes. There were also protests in Ireland (Belfast, Dublin, Omagh, Lurgan, Strabane, Dungannon and Limerick).

The largest protest took place last Saturday in Bilbao with 20,430 people in attendance according to the Basque newspaper Gara. The rally was organised by the relatives of those arrested under the slogan “All projects, all rights” and it was supported by many youth groups and four Basque pro-independence parties.

Dozens of young people took to the stage at the end of the march to highlight the fact that all these police operations have been proved to be unable to destroy the Basque youth movement. They also stressed their determination to continue and make the youth movement even broader. In fact, those who took to the stage were taking part along hundreds more in a national weekend of events and discussions in Zestoa.

This was the culmination of months of debates at the local level among different youth groups with the objective of organising a broad front against the capitalist system and in favour of a democratic process in the Basque Country. The arrests obviously come at a very important time for both the youth movement and the Basque Country and are aimed at preventing emerging new political initiatives.

31 out of the 35 youth activists arrested were sent to prison after five days incommunicado. When they were able to see their lawyers in jail most of them reported torture and sexual abuse, mainly against girls. They were beaten on their testicles, forced to do physical exercise, suffocated with plastic bags, deprived of sleep, insulted, humiliated, even threatened with guns at their heads and girls were stripped while being touched and kissed by hooded policemen. There were even rape simulations.

With these last arrests the number of Basque political prisoners is at its highest level in 35 years with 762.

New commitment to support the Basque prisoners’ demands.

Last week Etxerat, the Basque political prisoners’ relatives association, organised a three-day conference to analyse the situation in the prisons. Many trade unions and social organisations took part in the discussions and workshops.

Among other issues they talked about the new measures against the prisoners such as prolonging their sentences and making what are, in effect, life sentences and the control measures they’ll be subjected to once they are released as well as the new search conditions for relatives during visits.

On the last day all the organisations present at the conference decided to sign up to a document which will be the basis to reorganise a movement in favour of the Basque political prisoners. As a first commitment all of them supported the national demonstration called by Etxerat on the 2nd of January.

Another commitment taken by all present was to strengthen the Friday vigils. In fact, thousands of people took part last Friday in around 100 towns in picket lines to support the Basque political prisoners’ rights.

Broad support for indicted councillors.

22 mayors and councillors will be tried in the near future (the date is still unknown) by the Spanish National Court for their work in Udalbiltza, the Basque elected representatives national institution. It was created in 1998 with the objective of the national building of the Basque Country overcoming partition.
The Spanish authorities criminalised their institutional and democratic work and accused them of terrorism.

At a press conference last week dozens of councillors announced they have collected 2,000 signatures of other councillors from different political parties in favour of the Basques’ right to organise their own institutions and against the trial. These signatures will be sent to the United Nations.

Another political trial it’s about to start. On the 14th of December 10 members of the editorial team of Egunkaria will face trial in Madrid’s Spanish National Court. Egunkaria was closed down by the Spanish authorities in 2003 and it was the only Basque language newspaper in the world. The indicted are accused of terrorism and face sentences up to 17 years in jail.

Spanish policeman fakes ETA attack.

A Spanish Guardia Civil was taken to hospital on Sunday morning after shooting himself in one arm. He was out of control for 45 minutes in the nationalist village of Leitza. The pro-Spanish parties and media quickly condemned the alleged ETA attack but soon the news disappeared when the facts behind it emerged. 
A demonstration has been called by the local council to protest against the criminalisation suffered by the village and to demand the occupation forces leave Leitza.

26 November 2009

Listen to this week's Basque Info radio program

Latest news and an interview about the police operation against the pro-independence youth movement.
Listen to the program



25 November 2009

Spanish police arrest 34 Basque pro-Independence youth activists.

In the early hours of yesterday, Tuesday, 34 Basque pro-Independence political activists were arrested and 92 properties were searched in an operation involving 650 Spanish policemen. The police tried to arrest another seven youths but they weren’t in their homes.

Last week the anti-repression organization Askatasuna warned that they believed a police operation was imminent in the Basque Country. Then, in the early hours of Tuesday 24, 34 well known social, political and cultural young activists were arrested in what was the largest police operation in decades. They are being held incommunicado despite the recent recomendations of the United Nations Committee Against Torture.

All of them have been accused of being members of the national and county-level leadership of the pro-independence left-wing youth organization Segi which was banned in 2005.

Just ten days ago the Basque pro-Independence Left held a press conference where 110 prominent members launched new proposals to resolve the conflict. In a historical move they commited to a "peaceful and democratic political process" (full declaration in English: http://www.ezkerabertzalea.info/irakurri.php?id=2600). The declaration was welcomed by Basque nationalist and progressive forces and criminalized by the pro-Spanish parties and media.

On October 13 six prominent pro-Independence Left leaders, among them spokesperson Arnaldo Otegi, were arrested and imprisoned.

Most political parties and trade unions in the Basque Country have seen these arrests as a response to the new political initiative. The pro-Independence Left has said these attacks only confirm the Spanish state's weakness and its fear of politics. According to the pro-Independence Left it's in the political arena where the state is weakest and that's where the confrontation has to be moved to. At the same time the Spanish state, with these arrests and others which might follow, intends on the one hand to prevent any change of estrategy by the pro-Independence Left and, on the other, to weaken the engine of change.

After months of debates and events at local level a national day had been called for this coming Saturday in Zestoa to reorganise and strengthen the broad Basque youth movement. The arrests come to prevent this from happening. Other youth organizations have called for a response to the attack by taking part in that very important day.

Dozens of protests took place in towns, schools and universities across the country and more protests are expected to be organised in days to come.

The Irish Basque Solidarity Committees called to show support for the democratic process and to stop repression. Picket lines have been organised on Saturday 28th. 
2.30pm Belfast (outside Cultúrlann)
12pm Dublin (GPO)  

United Nations call upon Spanish Government to end torture.

Last week the United Nations Committee against Torture released a report after examining the Spanish state’s practice. After persistent ignoring of the international institution’s recomendations the conclusions couldn’t be any other way than to ask the Spanish authorities to end the incommunicado regime and to criticise the light penalties imposed on those found guilty of torture.

The Committee says in the report that “once again we have to express our concern – a concern shared by all the relevant regional and international human rights protection bodies - about the incommunicado regime used by the Spanish state in the terrorism offences, which could go up to 13 days. This regime breaches all the protections typical of a State of Law against ill-treatement and torture.”

Last week the Director of the Spanish branch of Amnesty International met with Navarre Parliament MPs to tell them it’s time to recognise the existence of torture and to implement measures to make it disappear. The protests of Spanish unionist representatives engendered a powerful response from the AI Director who said: When we release human rights abuses reports about China everybody respects AI’s stand. Why is the opposite here?”.

Commemorations of Basque pro-Independence Left’s leaders murdered by the Spanish state.

25 and 20 years ago respectively on November 20th Basque pro-Independence Left’s leaders Santi Brouard and Josu Muguruza were assassinated by Spanish death squads. Santi was murdered in the pediatric nursery where he worked  and Josu in a hotel in Madrid where he was to attend the first session of the Spanish Congress to which  he had been elected.  Josu and other Herri Batasuna elected MPs were going to use their turn to speak  to launch a peace proposal.

Both leaders were very much respected and loved and proof of that was in the very succesful events organised during the weekend in the Basque Country to commemorate their lifes and political legacy. On Friday morning the police harassed the commemoration event and hundreds packed a handball court that evening in Bilbao for a very moving rally. Sinn Féin MLA Paul Maskey also took part and expressed the Republican movement’s solidarity and support for the democratic process.

A speaker said the Basque pro-Independence Left was born to win and that it’s time to collect the fruits of many years of struggle and to gather forces to achieve the democratic framework.

Judge rules against extradition

Beñat leaving court

‘Charges are politically-motivated and must be dropped’

Judge Tom Burgess ruled last Wednesday that the Spanish authorities’ extradition warrant against Belfast-based Basque activist Artruro "Beñat" Villanueva was “invalid”. The judge rejected the warrant, which claimed that Mr Villanueva was a “member of an illegal terrorist organisation” (Jarrai) from 1994-2000, on the grounds that it did not include any particularities or details of specific offences alleged to have been committed.

The judge further ruled that there was no specific evidence cited in the warrant that proved Mr Villanueva’s membership of the organisation.
On Friday the Prosecution decided to appeal the ruling.

Welcoming the judgment today, Don’t Extradite the Basques Campaign spokesperson Kevin Morrison said: “The judge’s ruling demonstrates the validity in the message that the Don’t Extradite the Basques Campaign has been putting forward – that the extradition warrant against Benat was politically motivated.

“We urge the British government to acknowledge, after today’s ruling, that the cases against both Basque men being sought by the Spanish government are flawed and politically-motivated. The extradition request against Iñaki de Juana must also now be rejected.”

Arturo “Beñat” Villanueva

Mr. Morrison went on to say: “There were several fundamental flaws in the arrest warrant against Beñat, and the lack of particularity – the fact that there are no exact dates, locations or details of participation in any offence by Beñat – made the warrant invalid in the judge’s view.”

“While Jarrai is a solely political organisation, it was declared illegal by the Spanish authorities in 2005 and categorised as a “terrorist” organisation by Spain’s Supreme Court in 2007.

“During the period of Beñat’s alleged membership of Jarrai, the organisation was legal. The non-retrospectivity legal principle was clearly being breached by the terms of the warrant for his extradition.

“Beñat is being targeted by the Spanish authorities for carrying out political, public and peaceful youth work in the Basque Country. His only ‘crime’ was his political ideas in favour of Basque independence and socialism.”
‘Reject warrant against Iñaki de Juana’

Mr. Morrison continued: “The Don’t Extradite the Basques Campaign will continue to oppose the ongoing extradition process against Iñaki de Juana, who is also being targeted on spurious grounds by the Spanish government.

“We believe both men are clearly being persecuted solely for their political opinions, not for any criminal activity. We believe they will not receive a fair hearing with the Spanish judicial system and that they face the risk of torture.

“We urge the Spanish government to rethink its criminalisation strategy against the pro-Independence movement, particularly at this moment in time when significant initiatives towards reviving the peace process have been taken this week by the Basque Abertzale Left movement.

“We urge the British government to acknowledge, after today’s ruling, that the cases against both men are flawed and politically-motivated, and to reject the extradition request against Iñaki de Juana.”

23 November 2009

The pro-independence left commits itself to a peaceful and democratic process.

110 prominent pro-independence left activists were present last Saturday at a press conference in Altsasu in the Basque Country. There is no doubt it was an extraordinary event that strenghtened the importance of the ocassion.

A three-page declaration entitled “A first step in the democratic process: principles and intentions of the nationalist Left” was read to the gathered media. In it, the pro-Independence Left declares without reservations "support for a peaceful, political and democratic process in order to achieve an inclusive democracy, where the Basque people, freely and without any intimidation of any kind, will be able to decide their future.”

The document puts together and summarises numerous ideas, statements, press releases, interviews that have been carried out during the past year including Batasuna’s debate document launched a month agoHowever, it also includes new commitments like the acceptance of the Mitchell principles which opened the path to the peace process in Ireland.

The pro-independence left sets the overcoming of the armed conflict as a priority. According to them this conflict has been perpetuated by the current political framework which divides the Basque Country and denies its  people their rights.

The declaration states that “both with correct decisions and errors the pro-Independence Left has brought the liberation process to the phase of political change. Now, the task is to make it irreversible.” For this to happen “new strategies, new political alliances and new tools” are required.

They acknowledge that “the objectives to reach in this new phase are the national recognition of the Basque Country and the right to self-determination and for that it’s necessary to increase the accumulation of forces and to move the confrontation with the Spanish and French states to the front where they are weaker that is the political front. The basic instrument for the new political phase is the Democratic Process.”

Spain’s Minister of the Interior and the pro-Spanish forces and media said there was nothing new in the statement and tried to criminalise it as usual.

The Basque parties welcomed the statement as positive and asked ETA to make a move.

More support messages came from abroad also. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said: “Their unconditional declaration of support for a peaceful, political and democratic process should be welcomed by the friends of the Basque and Spanish peoples, by all friends of the quest for peace in the Spanish State. This political initiative needs space to bloom. I reiterate my call in recent days for all involved to create the space.” Mr. Adams was refering to a previous statement last Friday in which he asked for the immediate release of Arnaldo Otegi and the other Batasuna leaders imprisoned a month ago.

International mediator Brian Currin also welcomed the declaration from Venice where he was attending along with Sinn Féin, Batasuna and the Kurdish Workers Party’s represenatives conference on democratic and peace processes.

Prisoners’ relatives ask for a “solidarity flood”.

Hundreds of Basque political prisoners’ relatives met last Sunday for their association’s annual conference. At the end of it they held a giant press conference supported by different parties, trade unions and community groups.

The speakers said this has been a very hard year for them and their relatives as conditions in the jails are deteriorating. Prisoners’ rights are breached on a daily basis: dispersal policy, life sentences, ill prisoners kept in jail, solitary confinment and isolation, threats, insults, beatings, communication obstacles, continuous and arbitrary prison transfers without notice ...

Even relatives and friends are harassed and criminalised and are forced to put their lives at risk in long road trips for a visit which then lasts only 40 minutes.

For that reason the relatives appealed to Basque society and especially to political parties, trade unions and social organizations to make a “solidarity flood” together in order to put an end to all the attacks and bring the prisoners home. As a first step they called for a national demonstration on the 2nd of January.

The Basque Political Prisoners’ Collective also released a statement over the weekend to protest against the new personal search measures imposed upon their relatives and friends before visits. The Collective said that the Spanish Government has an incredible lack of respect for dignity and that all these abuses are not going unnoticed by Basque society or the international community.

In fact just last week the Spanish Government took the first steps to reform the current Penal Code so that ex-prisoners will be under permanent control for up to 10 years after they have their sentences to the full. Other measures include the creation of more types of “terrorist offences”.

Campaign for northern Basque Country’s recognition getting stronger.

More than 400 people gathered at a rally in Azkaine’s handball court, near Baiona, last Saturday, organised by the Group in Favour of Autonomy.

After years of French scorning the Basque people’s demands a strong campaign for Basque institutions in the north begun. In the 80’s the armed organization Iparretarrak led the way and in the 90’s local mayors and councillors organised and and launched new campaigns. Huge demonstration and signature collections showed the support of the majority of people and political representatives across the board.

Now the French state is in the middle of a territorial administrative zone reorganization but continues to ignore the Basque people’s demands.

It’s in this context that different Basque nationalist forces are coming together to ask for recognition of the Basque Country’s own institutions and the right to decide their own future.
At last Saturday’s rally speakers told the audience that thanks to their hard struggle they had been able to keep the Basque Country alive and that through struggle they would make their dream a reality.

Basque extradition would be ‘grossly inhumane’

As Iñaki de Juana’a two-day extradition hearing began in Belfast on November 12, supporters rallied in a demonstration called by the Don’t Extradite the Basques Campaign.

Michael Culbert, director of the ex-prisoners’ group Coiste na n-Iarchimí, addressed the supporters, who included republican ex-prisoners, local Sinn Féin councillors, members of Belfast’s Basque community and others.

“The case against Iñaki is motivated by vindictiveness on the part of the Spanish government despite the fact that there is no evidence against him. The charges are spurious and absurd,” Culbert said at the rally.

The Spanish authorities are trying to extradite the former prisoner and hunger-striker, who served 21 years in Spanish jails, from Belfast, where he moved immediately after his release in August last year, on charges of “glorifying terrorism”.

The arrest warrant is based on a single media report of somebody at a rally in Donostia/San Sebastian last August, which was celebrating de Juana’s release from prison, reading a letter that used the popular Basque expression “Aurrera bolie” (“Kick the ball forward”). The Spanish authorities claim this phrase constitutes a call for the continuation of armed struggle.

De Juana was not present at this rally and denies writing such a letter, which Spanish police admit they cannot produce.

Judge Tom Burgess ruled in March that “glorifying terrorism” was an extraditable offence that had an equivalent under the British Terrorism Act 2006. He said that he did not have to study the quality of the evidence against de Juana, as that was a matter for the Spanish courts.

The defence team in last week’s hearing argued two main points: that the Spanish authorities were knowingly abusing the extradition process, and that extradition would cause a disproportionate threat to de Juana’s health.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, defending, said he believed the Spanish authorities were abusing the extradition process because they knew they did not have any evidence against de Juana, and that the case was politically motivated.

He explained that while the defence had repeatedly requested the case files of evidence against his client, the Spanish authorities had refused to provide any such information or respond to the requests.

Referring to an article published in the pro-Spanish daily newspaper El Pais, which said the prosecution’s case against de Juana “was like trying to build the Titanic with toothpicks”, Fitzgerald said the description was accurate.

“This is an absurdity, but the fact it’s an absurdity doesn’t make it harmless. It makes it dangerous given the consequences,” he said.

The defence also pointed out that the involvement of the Spanish Association of Victims of Terrorism organisation in all stages of the case against de Juana, –from urging it to be launched, to working closely with the prosecution and continuing to monitor the case – reflected the lack of independence on the part of the prosecution.

While the judge had ruled in March that it was not his role to examine the evidence against de Juana, the defence argued that the total lack of evidence of a crime from the prosecution was itself evidence that the charges were politically motivated.

‘Grossly inhumane’
Senior university lecturer at Cambridge University, Dr Adrian Grounds, an expert on the impact of imprisonment on the psychological health of detainees, testified that in his independent opinion, de Juana would face a very serious deterioration in his health and likely, if not certain, death through hunger strike if he was extradited.

Dr Grounds, who had interviewed de Juana for eight hours, said that de Juana’s previous experiences in Spanish prisons had been extremely traumatic and that while he was “a very strong, ideologically committed and resilient person”, his prison experience had left him suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and absolute exhaustion.

De Juana was subjected to repeated beatings while in jail, and Dr Grounds cited the abuses carried out against Basque political prisoners documented by the UN’s Committee on the Prevention of Torture as well as reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

He was held in solitary confinement for more than 17 years of his total 21 years in jail. When protesting against attempts to lengthen his term after he had completed his 19-year sentence, de Juana endured first a 63-day hunger strike and then a 115-day strike during which he was force-fed while shackled to his hospital bed.

Dr Grounds said that to return him to the Spanish prison system would very likely result in de Juana going on a hunger strike to the death. He said that in his opinion, this would partly be a political act of protest, but it would also reflect de Juana’s inability to return to the conditions that had caused his exhaustion and PTSD.

Fitzgerald said: “Would it now be inhumane to put him back in custody on the basis of what someone says someone read out at a rally though no-one has the document? We say it's grossly disproportionate and inhumane to do that.”

12 November 2009

Amnesty International denounces police impunity.

Last week AI published a report where it highlighted the impunity of Spanish police in torture cases. The damming report says there is no political will to put measures in place to prevent torture. AI describes the current system of investigation and punishment of torture as a “black hole”.

The report suggests several procedures and actions to the Spanish and Basque Autonomous Region’s governments to end torture. These include the creation of an independent body to investigate the complaints (up until now it’s the same police accused of the abuse who “investigate” the accusations), setting up video and audio systems in interrogation centres and ensuring that the police wear identification numbers or names on their uniforms.

For many years now AI has asked the Spanish authorities to stop torture and to end the incommunicado period during which it usually happens. The Spanish authorities have continuously ignored AI’s recommendations.

Just two weeks ago the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions spoke against the imprisonment of Batasuna’s spokesperson Professor Landa. The report was initially ignored by the Spanish government but last week judge Baltasar Garzon rejected it and accused the UN body of lack of information on the case.

Six months of illegitimate government in the Basque Autonomous Region.

Six months ago the Spanish Labour Party/PSOE took over the three western Basque provinces' regional parliament with the support of the Spanish Conservative Party/PP.

It was the end of 30 years of Basque Nationalist Party/PNV government. The change was possible as a result of the banning of the pro-independence left. In this way the political apartheid imposed by the Spanish authorities reached one of its objectives.

The same type of government is in place in the other Basque regional parliament of Navarre where the Spanish unionist right wing holds power thanks to the support of the Spanish Labour Party and the banning of the pro-independence left.
These strange coalitions show the nature of the state pact against the Basque people’s will for change and democracy.

During the first six months of the Basque Autonomous Region’s government political tension has increased with an extremely repressive summer against all displays of solidarity with political prisoners, the banning of demonstrations and the efforts to make Basque national symbols disappear from public places.

The latest controversy came about last week when the regional Education Minister expressed her aims to make all references to the Basque Country as a nation disappear from the curriculum. She went on to say that Basque language medium education was offensive for 80% of the population.

The objectives of the pro-Spanish political offensive are clear: to turn the three western Basque provinces into a “normal” Spanish region and to make the unionist vision of the region the “neutral” vision in opposition to the “biased” nationalist vision.

Weekend celebrations show the strength of Basque social movement.

Last Saturday thousands of young people took over the streets of Arrasate to celebrate the National Student’s Day. The day of events was organised by Ikasle Abertzaleak/Nationalist Students, the largest student organisation in the Basque Country with local groups in secondary schools and universities.

This year's event, organised under the slogan “Drawing the future”, saw debates during the morning around the capitalist and patriarchal system’s effects in education. In the afternoon there was lunch and a demonstration followed. At the end of it speakers from the Basque Country, the Catalan Countries and Ireland spoke about their different student struggles. The day ended with a music festival.

Also on Saturday the Basque international solidarity organization Askapena/Liberation organised its annual Internationalist Day. 300 people gathered in Altsasu for a day packed with events, with a special focus on solidarity with Palestine and the boycott campaign against Israel.

Last weekend also marked the 30th anniversary of the creation of Euskal Herrian Euskaraz/In the Basque Country in Basque. For the last three decades this grassroots organisation has been working hard in defence of, and to promote, the Basque language.

In a press conference they announced many events will be organised in coming months to celebrate the anniversary but more importantly to strengthen the organisation and the two fundamental axes of their work: denouncing and defending the movement against the attacks and the development of a strategy that will lead to a Basque Country that will live in Basque.

Last Saturday more than 1,000 members of the largest trade union Basque Workers Solidarity/ELA gathered in the south of Navarre to pay tribute to the more than 3,000 people executed by the Spanish fascist forces during the 1936-39 war in this Basque province. Among the executed were socialists, anarchists, communists, nationalists...and many ELA members also. This tribute is part of a broader process of recovering the historical memory set in place by many different grassroots organisations created over the past few years across the Basque Country.

Prisoners’ relatives harassed.

Last weekend many Basque political prisoners lost their right to visit their loved ones after refusing to submit to being searched by guards in dozens of Spanish jails. It seems like this is another step up by the Spanish authorities in the harassment relatives have to endure to visit the 742 Basque political prisoners. 
Friends and relatives have to travel hundreds of miles every weekend to visit them in 85 jails across France and Spain putting their lives at risk on the road. Two of them had to be taken to hospital last weekend and 16 have lost their lives during the past 20 years.  
Even the prisoners’ relatives association has been recently targeted in a criminalisation campaign by the Spanish authorities and media. 
Prisoners in different jails started protests against these new searching measures. 


4 November 2009


You can now listen to this week's Basque Info radio program whenever it suits you just by clicking here http://tinyurl.com/ygtkjla 30 minutes of news, music and an interview with Batasuna's representative in Brussels about the new political initiative.


Last Wednesday South African attorney and international mediator Brian
Currin addressed a conference in Donostia/San Sebastian. Expectations
were high due to the work Brian Currin has carried out in conflict
resolution in South Africa, Rwanda, Ireland and the Basque Country.

Brian Currin arriving to the conference.

Mr. Currin said he knew the Basque pro-independence left was involved
in a strategic debate and that he had been given details about a new
political initiative. He revealed that in July last year, Batasuna had
asked him to write a report on the anti-aparthied United Democratic
Front experience in South Africa. Then that strategy was discussed
between September and December.
During the conference he said he trusted the Basque pro-independence
left and he encouraged others to support the new political initiative.
He went on to say that he thought the initiative was praiseworthy and
that it has the potential to have a deep impact in the political
situation in the Basque Country. According to Mr. Currin, a democratic
process based on the new political initiative would receive
international support.
He began his speech by talking about the recent arrests of prominent
Basque pro-independence activists such as Batasuna spokesperson
Arnaldo Otegi. He said he was sure the Spanish government knew about
the new proposal and that with the arrests they wanted to prevent it
from being launched.
Mr. Currin said that the Basque pro-independence left should be
legalised and its members released from jail and that the democratic
process should be carried without violence.
The conference is available on line at:
During the same week veteran pro-independence leader Rufi Etxeberria
was extensively interviewed by the Basque newpaper Gara. He was
recently released on bail after two years in jail for his Batasuna
membership and then arrested the following week along with Arnaldo
Otegi and another eight prominent left nationalist activists just to
be released on bail once again.
In the interview he says “it’s time to collect the fruits of long
years of struggle and not to let them go.” Mr. Etxeberria thinks that
there are appropriate existing political and social conditions to
promote a democratic process and to achive a new democratic framework
in the Basque Country.
For that he considers that the pro-independence left has to reorganise
and strengthen and that it has to become legal. He also thinks a new
broad political and social pro-independence movement has to be created
to promote a democratic framework and at the same time to develop a
pro-independence strategy.
As a third step Mr. Etxeberria speaks of the need to build a popular
wall to stop all the repressive attacks and to demand the release of
all political prisoners.
Finally he says that the negotiation process has to be rebuilt taking
into account the experiences and contents of the last process and that
a Forum for a Democratic Solution should be put in place.
On Monday the pro-independence left decided to make the debate
document available online.  In a statement it said that they wanted
everybody to be able to know about it from the original source in a
way to defeat the Spanish authorities' efforts to prevent the new
political initiative and to overcome the ongoing media hysteria and
criminalisation campaign.

Last weekend the National Forum of Debate met at its annual
conference. More than 200 delegates of different organisations took
part and evaluated the work done during the past year. The Forum was
created in 2003 to make a national analysis of the Basque Country’s
political, economic, social and cultural situation and to promote
national building strategies. This year’s conference decided to
establish a commission to promote a common and plural pro-independence
space for citizens to be active in the process of political change.


Last week five young activists were judged in the Spanish National
Court accused of being members of the Basque pro-independence youth
organisations Jarrai, Haika and Segi. Two of them were transfered from
jail. The other three had been previously released on bail.
Nevertheless they were imprisoned at the end of the trial while
awaiting sentence.

The five youth activists in the Spanish Special Court.

All of them had been on the run when another 31 activists were tried
in 2005, 23 of whom were sentenced to six years in prison in 2007. The
Spanish authorities sought the extradition of four more but French
authorities rejected three of them on the basis of political
persecution and lack of evidence. The fourth is Arturo “Benat”
Villanueva who is currently fighting extradition from Ireland.

Eight young activists were sentence to six years in prison last week
for being members of the outlawed youth political organisation Segi.
115 more are awaiting trial.

During the trials all of them defended their right to do political
work in favour of independence and stated that the trials were


Basque solicitor Joseba Agudo was arrested last week by French police
after the Spanish police searched his offices. He works mainly with
Basque political refugees and has been accused of working for ETA.
South American solicitors protested the arrest and accused Spain of
being an inquisitorial state.
An alleged ETA member was arrested in France and later imprisoned last week.
Basque political prisoner Amaia Urizar was released after doing 5
years in jail. She was arrested when she was 22 years old and her
testimonies of torture shocked Basque society. She explained how she
was raped by the Spanish police with a gun and how she had to endure
long sessions of questioning while being suffocated in a bath.

Amaia Urizar in the Spanish National Court.

Five people were arrested and three of them imprisoned last week
accused of being members of a Spanish fascist group in Irunea/Pamplona
and were accused of different attacks on pro-indepdendence properties
and activists over the last six months. Basque pro-independence left
activists and organisations exposed the hypocritical attitude of the
pro-Spanish establishment as the fascists weren’t treated the way
pro-independence activists are treated when arrested under the
anti-terrorist law. They said the police operation followed a
previously writen script and that it doesn’t intend to resolve or stop
the dirty war.