28 January 2010

This week's Basque Info podcast available

Listen to this week's Baque Info podcast including the main news of the week and an interview about the prisoners' protest campaign and the latest torture reports with Iratxe Urizar from Behatokia, the Basque Human Rights Watchdog.

Basque political prisoners start hunger strike.

The Basque Political Prisoners Association announced on Monday 25th that from that day the 746 prisoners will embark on a hunger strike. Previously they have been engaged in other protests such as refusing to leave their cells, refusing to take visits, make phone calls or receive letters, and forming picket lines in the recreation yards.

On the 18th of January they protested and demanded information concerning the disappearance of former political prisoner Jon Anza who went missing on the 18th of April last year. They will continue organising such protests every month until the disappearance is resolved.

With the protests they also wanted to demand the end of isolation and to show solidarity to the comrades who are kept alone in different jails. The association sent their full support to Lorentxa Gimon who started a hunger strike on the 2nd of January to demand her transfer to another French prison where more comrades are kept. She has lost 10 kilos so far.

They announced the hunger strike’s main demand is political status.

More details are expected to be released in coming days.

Meanwhile on the outside, a press conference took place on Saturday organised by former prisoners and members of the prisoner’s solidarity movement. A speaker at the event told journalists of the hard living conditions the Basque political prisoners have to endure and stressed they are part and consequence of the conflict, and in that way they are crucial in the resolution of it. They encouraged social and political forces to commit themselves to bringing about a new political scenario in the Basque Country based on democracy.

The Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said the Basque prisoners won’t get their objectives and highlighted the Spanish prison regime is the hardest in Europe with maximum sentences of 40 years to be fulfilled to the end. 

Historical rally against the High Speed Train.

More than 15,000 people rallied last Saturday against the construction of High Speed Train (HST) lines in the north and south of the Basque Country. The rally is the largest to have being organised so far in this long campaign.

Another important aspect was that the demonstration started in Hendaia, in the French occupied northern Basque Country, which then crossed the artificial border and ended in Irun, in the Spanish occupied southern Basque Country.

Those who attended the demonstration were of many different backgrounds including mayors, councillors, farmers, concerned citizens and even some international delegations from European groups fighting locally against High Speed Train infrastructures.

The main speaker Michel Hiriart, on behalf of the Lapurdi/Labourd Northern Province’s towns’ partnership said the project is dramatic and detrimental to the communities and the land. Other speakers also demanded an end to the criminalization of the campaign by the French and Spanish authorities, and asked for the right of the people to have a say and be able to decide about the construction.

The campaign against the HST in the Basque Country is very popular and focuses on the environmental, cultural, energetic, social, and economic damages of the construction of such a massive infrastructure in a small and mountainous country. Campaigners condemned it as a project to enrich the private constructors and to serve the economical and social elites. They demand transparency, public debate and the respect to the people’s decisions.

Local direct action and peaceful protests take place every week across the country but ETA’s attacks against the works have made the headlines very often.

Fourth session of the Egunkaria trial.

Imanol Murua-Uria, a former member of staff of Egunkaria and a witness for the defence, denied that ETA had said that Martxelo Otamendi should be appointed as the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief. This is one of the arguments put forward by the prosecution. The journalist told the judge that he had suggested Otamendi to Joan Mari Torrealdai, the Chairman of Egunkaria, S.A.’s Board of Directors, in 1993. Otamendi was appointed as Editor-in-Chief of Egunkaria in June of that year and remained in that post until the paper was closed down on the orders of Judge Juan del Olmo in February 2003.

Murua-Uria eta Zabaleta were the first witnesses called by the defence counsel to give evidence. Before them the last witnesses called by the private prosecution gave evidence. One of them was Txomin Aizpurua, a one-time ETA member and former prisoner. Aizpurua declared that he did not know of any reports going back to the time of the setting up of the newspaper. Yet according to the prosecution, documents about Egunkaria had been seized from him. The newspaper was set up in 1990 and Aizpurua was arrested a year later.

The two Guardia Civil officers who had participated in the arrests of Otamendi and Txema Auzmendi were called by the prosecution to give evidence. The first one, who took part in the arrest of Egunkaria’s Editor-in-Chief, initially said he had no recollection of this and had to be shown the record of arrest before he admitted that this had been the case. He then asked who Otamendi was, and went on to say that copies of Zutabe (ETA’s internal newssheets) had been found during the searches made of him, but he did not remember where they had been found.

The prosecution and the defence may submit their findings to the panel of judges at the end of February.

On Saturday 23 January the indicted received the broad support at Arantzazu monastery of prominent figures in society.

In Ireland there will be several talks organised by the Irish Basque Solidarity Committees in coming days. The main speaker will be Ainara Mendiola, the coordinator of the International Campaign in Favour of Egunkaria. The talks will take place in Derry on Saturday 30th January at 12pm in Cultúrlann, on Monday 1st February in Belfast’s Queen’s University’s Students Union’s Club Room 1 at 1pm and in Cultúrlann at 7.30pm on the same night, and on Tuesday 2nd February talks will also be organised in Dublin.

Five people arrested accused of being ETA members.

Five men on their early 30’s were arrested and taken incommunicado by the Basque-Spanish police on Tuesday morning in several coastal towns. Another person was arrested today. They have been accused of being members of an ETA unit and made responsible for several attacks including a bomb against a police barracks in 2008.

Protests against the arrests were organised later in the evening in the detainees' home towns.

21 January 2010

Basque Info radio program available

Listen to this week's Basque Info radio program.

ETA supports the Pro-Independence Left’s proposals.

In a statement published last Sunday in the newspaper Gara ETA said:
“The Pro-Independence Left, the Basque People’s engine of struggle, has spoken and ETA supports its position (ETA is referring to the historical declaration by 100 high profile Pro-Independence Left activists last November in Altsasu and the grassroots debate that followed). We can’t keep waiting for the enemy, it’s time to take the lead and to act. At this time, when the enemy is striking hardest we can’t just keep resisting. We must respond showing the same leadership they try to strangle. It’s true, that rather than in resisting against repression, our strength lies in the political struggle. The enemy’s arguments are proved next to nothing when confronted with the Pro-Independence Left in the political debate”.
ETA highlights in its statement that the Pro-Independence Left is the only force that proposes a political framework that allows for all political options to be promoted and developed freely.
Most of the statement is focused on the democratic process. ETA says that the democratic process will become the axe of the struggle to be developed from now on by the Pro-Independence Left. According to ETA it would bring a democratisation of the political and legal situation of oppression, the overcoming in democratic terms of the political conflict, the implementation of the Basque Country’s national rights and the citizens’ civil and political rights and it would carry the Basque Country to a scenario of self-determination in a step-by-step, regulated and agreed way.
ETA is convinced that such a process will be opposed by the current political and legal framework with efforts to undermine it with "reforms" and so perpetuate the conflict with the aim of destroying the road to sovereignty.
ETA states that the Democratic Process is not the best option but the only one and that it must be understood that the main guarantor of it is the Basque People. According to ETA only with the strength and support of the Basque People will it be possible to open, build and bring that process to its successful conclusion.
In that sense ETA believes that the past experiences show two key lessons. If there is no People’s activation the Process won’t advance and also that it won’t be possible without the participation of the Spanish state. ETA continues: “If the Democratic Process is to be developed through democratic means and without interferences, as we also believe it should, the state interference and violence must stop.”
ETA ends the statement by recalling the historical words of one of the organization’s main leaders recorded just hours before he was assassinated by the Spanish death squads in 1978: “It won’t be ETA or any political party, it will be the Basque People who will bring freedom to the Basque Country. That’s what we want to stress today. Victory is in the struggle and we want to encourage our People and every citizen to organise and fight, to be protagonists in the liberation of our People.”
ETA’s last statement was widely covered in the media and sparked many reactions from the political parties. Many of the pro-Spanish newspapers manipulated the statement and even published wrong translations of it (ETA’s statements are always only written in Basque).  Despite the usual critics there was a broad interest in the contents.
The pro-independence social democratic party Eusko Alkartasuna/Basque Solidarity welcomed the statement as positive and expressed its willingness to take steps towards a unified nationalist strategy based on a civil and political process. 
Two days before the ETA’s statement the pro-independence trade union LAB organised a delegates’ rally with 1,200 in attendance. Addressing the audience the general secretary Ainhoa Etxaide encouraged political parties, trade unions and social organisations to reach political agreements to boost the democratic process. She said steps are being made and that they will be consolidated in the coming months. The LAB’s leader said this will be a decisive year. 
During the rally they remembered the union’s former general secretary who was imprisoned in October along with Otegi and other leaders of the Pro-Independence Left. They also remembered the rest of the Basque political prisoners and the 89 workers who were killed last year in their workplace.

Solidarity with the Basque political prisoners.

400 people rallied in Donostia/San Sebastian to demand the immediate release of the local political prisoner Juan Jose Rego. As we previously reported the 70-year-old prisoner has spent 15 years in jail and suffers numerous very serious illnesses. He recently suffered a heart attack. He can barely see and move and as he told his wife last week he won’t be able to survive another five years in jail. According to Spanish law seriously ill prisoners must be released.

Basque political prisoner Jon Bilbao entered his 29th year in jail last week. He was arrested in January 1982 and was brutally tortured during nine days of incommunicado detention. He should have been released in 2002 according to Spanish law. The oldest prisoner in Europe is Basque political prisoner Jose Mari Sagardui who was arrested in 1980.

450 people took part in the annual Solidarity Day in the northern Basque Country last weekend to protest against repression, to show support to the Basque political prisoners and refugees and their relatives and to remember those who died. They especially remembered former Basque political prisoner and refugee and ETA member Jon Anza, nine months after he went missing.

Many protests took place on Monday across the Basque Country to demand answers about his disappearance. Nine months on and there is still no outcome from the French police investigation despite the strong suspicion of the involvement of Spanish undercover police units.

Few months before Jon Anza’s disappearance another Basque political refugee was kidnapped for several hours by undercover Spanish policemen in the northern Basque Country (under French administration). This week the French court dealing with this case was told by the Spanish authorities they couldn’t identify the owners of four Spanish mobile phone signals detected that day where the Basque refugee was abducted.

14 January 2010

Former ETA members deny involvement of armed organisation in setting up Egunkaria

On Tuesday 12th, on the third day of the Basque language newspaper Egunkaria trial, former ETA members Jose Luis Alvarez Santacristina aka ‘Txelis’, Jose Mari Dorronsoro and Carmen Gisasola appeared at the Spanish National Criminal Court as witnesses for the prosecution.

Egunkaria’s editorial council members Joan Mari Torrealdai, Iñaki Uria, Martxelo Otamendi, Txema Auzmendi and Xabier Oleaga had been indicted on charges of being ETA members.

The three former ETA members gave evidence as witnesses because, according to police sources, at the time of their arrest they had been found to be in possession of documents pertaining to Egunkaria. But on Tuesday the three denied that the armed organisation had ever promoted a Basque-language newspaper, or that they had intervened in it. Dorronsoro said that Egunkaria had not been mentioned “at all” during the executive committee meeting of the armed organisation ETA, and Gisasola declared that while she was a member of ETA she knew nothing about the project.

Before them officers of the Spanish Guardia Civil police gave evidence as witnesses today at the request of the prosecution. On 20 February 2003, the Spanish Guardia Civil had closed down Egunkaria on the orders of Judge Juan del Olmo of the Spanish National Criminal Court believing that the newspaper had connections with ETA, but the Spanish Guardia Civil did not submit any evidence against Egunkaria yesterday, either.

One officer said he thought that the case had been dropped. When questioned about the fact that the people running Egunkaria had been tortured at the time of their arrest, the Spanish Guardia Civil officers said that everything had proceeded “normally”.

The defendants Joan Mari Torrealdai, Iñaki Uria, Martxelo Otamendi, Txema Auzmendi and Xabier Oleaga said they were full of renewed energy after receiving the support of thousands and thousands of Basques in Bilbao on December 19. Torrealdai said, “After today’s session, too, the independence of Egunkaria and the innocence of the defendants will be clearer than ever.”

The panel of trial judges is keen to present its summary on 27 January.

Basque political prisoners start protests.

As we previously reported the 742 members of the Basque Political Prisoners Collective (EPPK) began a series of protests this week which will go on throughout the whole year. The prisoners want to respond to the increased repression in the Basque Country and the harshening of conditions in jail. They also demand the immediate release of all seriously ill prisoners and those who are still kept in prison despite having served completed their sentences.

From Monday the prisoners refused to leave their cells and as a consequence they won’t be able to go to the yard or to courses, they won’t be able to take visits, receive letters or make phone calls and many of them probably won’t be given food.
This is the first phase and the campaign will escalate in coming months when the second phase will start with hunger strikes.

Last Wednesday 70-year-old Basque political prisoner Juan Jose Rego suffered a heart attack. He had two angina pectoris in 2009 the last one on Christmas Day. He’s been in jail for 16 years, he is almost blind and deaf and among others he has prostate problems. His family denounced the lack of medical assistance in jail and expressed their fears about the future.

44,000 people demonstrated in Bilbao two weeks ago to demand the Basque prisoners’ rights are respected and to ask for their repatriation in the largest rally in the Basque Country in years. Despite this support the Spanish and French authorities continue to ignore these demands and increased the criminalization campaign through their allied media.

Hundreds of people confronted snow and cold last Friday to show support to the Basque political prisoners and took part in the weekly vigils across the country.

Five alleged ETA members and one refugee arrested.

Two alleged ETA members, Inaki Iribarren and Eider Uruburu, were arrested in the south of France last week when, according to police sources, they were leaving an ETA arms dump which had been under surveillance for months.

Another two, Garikoitz Garcia and Iratxe Yanez, were arrested in Portugal after escaping from a Spanish police checkpoint a few miles away from the border. The police said they found explosives and weapons in a van. The Spanish authorities requested their extradition.

Also last week Peio Olano was arrested by the Spanish Guardia Civil. After five days of incommunicado detention he was sent to jail where he was finally able to talk to his lawyer and reported the terrible tortures he suffered at the hands of the Guardia Civil. He stated that he was suffocated with plastic bags and rolled up in a blanket while four policemen jumped on him, that he received threats against his young son, and that he was continuously beaten and was obliged to do physical exercises.

Finally, last Friday night young political escapee Ibai Pena was arrested in the north of the Basque Country and later sent to jail while awaiting an extradition hearing.

7 January 2010

This week's Basque Info podcast available now

Listen to this week's Basque Info radio program

The Basque political prisoners start a new campaign of protests

In a statement released at the beginning of this year the Euskal Preso Politikoen Kolektiboa or EPPK (Basque Political Prisoners’ Collective) announced that they are about to start a series of protests against the Spanish and French authorities prison policies. The campaign will be carried on along the whole year and will have different phases.

In the statement the Prisoner’s Collective highlights the increase of the repressive measures in the jails and the attacks against the solidarity movement on the outside. According to them this situation is part of the attempt by the Spanish state to condition the beginning of a new political cycle in the Basque Country.

The Basque prisoners want to prove to the Spanish and French states that repression is fruitless and at the same time want to help boost the national liberation process, becoming part of it through their protest campaign and encouraging all political and social actors in the Basque Country to be part of it.

The prisoners demand the release of all the seriously ill comrades and those who have already done their sentences as well as the end of solitary confinement as a matter of urgency. They also demand the political status and their repatriation to the jails in the Basque Country as a first step towards a future amnesty.

During the first week of the year they will be informing about the new campaign and then protests such as lock-ins and hunger strikes will follow.

Huge response to the Spanish repressive strategy

44,000 people demonstrated in Bilbao last Saturday in support of the Basque political prisoners in the largest demonstration of the last years in the Basque Country. The demonstration had been previously organised by the prisoners' relatives and then banned by the Spanish authorities just two days before. Immediately five political parties reacted and organised the mentioned one. The slogan chosen for the demonstration was “Basque prisoners to the Basque Country”.

The Spanish authorities’ attempts to hide the broad support that slogan has among Basques failed completely.

The unprecedented reaction shown by the five political parties was also seen by many as proof of the existence of conditions to build a broad pro-independence front.

Meanwhile, dozens of visits were lost due to the new search measures implemented by the Spanish authorities before jail visits. The prisoners’ relatives and the prisoners themselves are carrying out numerous protests to confront this situation.

Former Basque political prisoner Patxi Gomez, who spent 20 years in jail and was released just a few months ago, has seen his sentence extended by the Spanish Supreme Court and will have to go back to jail. This is part of the Spanish strategy of recent years to keep Basque prisoners in jail for longer terms than those imposed in their sentences. Dozens of them have seen how the day they were due to be freed by law has been postponed for many more years bringing the repressive situation to cruel terms.

Great support for official national teams

More than 5,000 people gathered in the velodrome in Donostia/San Sebastian for a unique event on Saturday 27th of December. It was the first time ever Basque sports men and women had organised a whole soiree of a mix of different sports displays.

The aim was to demand official national teams for the Basque Country. Despite the majority of Basque people supporting this demand the French and Spanish states block any possibility at the international relevant bodies.

The successful event was the first of a new campaign that will grow in coming months and years.