25 March 2010

Basque Info 17 and 24/03/10

Basque Info 17 and 24/03/10

• Jon Anza’s corpse found in a Toulouse’s morgue
• French policeman killed in shooting with ETA members
• Nationalist vote divided in the north
• New pro-independence youth organization launched
• Basques in danger of being extradited
• Prisoners on hunger strike

Jon Anza’s corpse found in a Toulouse’s morgue

After 11 months missing Jon Anza’s corpse was found in a morgue in the French city of Toulouse on March 11th. Jon Anza’s disappearance was publicly denounced by his family at the time and ETA released a statement claiming his membership. All of them pointed at the Spanish security forces as those responsible for his disappearance.

Since then a campaign has tirelessly mobilised thousands of people and filled the Basque Country walls and beyond with posters including Jon Anza’s picture and the question “where is Jon?”

The campaign met with the Spanish authorities and media’s complete silence but several reports published by French journalists over the past months confirmed what everybody in the Basque Country suspected.

The case is now under investigation by the French authorities but numerous questions have arisen. According to the information released by the authorities on April 29th Jon Anza was found on the street and taken to hospital were he died on May 11th. He arrived to Toulouse by train on April 18th. Where was he for 11 days? Why did no one report it? Why wasn’t he included on the missing persons list? Why has he been found now?

The whole protocol failed since the very moment Jon Anza was found on the street. Even the case’s French prosecutor can’t explain it and now the case is under secret and is being supervised by a judge. All hypotheses are open and the only one dismissed has been the Spanish Interior Minister’s one.

People took to the streets in the Basque Country as soon as the news emerged. The largest demonstration took place in Jon Anza’s home town Donostia/San Sebastian on Sunday 14th. 8,000 people marched to demand the truth.

On Monday 15th about 100 people travelled to Toulouse to support Jon Anza’s family and demand to have the family’s doctor present at the autopsy. This right was denied by the French authorities and the police attacked the supporters outside the hospital with tear gas.

The Spanish authorities have denied any involvement in the disappearance and have threatened to prosecute those who imply the opposite. A relative of Jon Anza was called to appear before the judge on Monday for the Sunday’s march.

French policeman killed in a shooting with ETA members

A French policeman was shot dead in an incident which happened outside Paris on Tuesday 16th.

According to police sources around eight alleged ETA members stole two cars from a car dealer and shortly after one of the cars were stopped by police officers. When they were arresting the suspects the other car arrived and there was a shooting which resulted on the death of one of the policemen.

One of the alleged ETA members was arrested and the rest escaped by car and on foot.

This is the first time ETA has killed a French policeman. The French and Spanish authorities condemned the killing and promised to be implacable with ETA.

The Basque Pro-Independence Left regretted the incident and asked ETA to reaffirm its commitment with the democratic process.

On March 20th ETA released a statement where they said they are ready to give all the steps needed to help the political change. The statement was dated before the Jon Anza’s body had been found and also before the fatal shooting.

Nationalist vote divided in the north

The French regional elections had some different outcomes for the Basque nationalist parties who contested separately.

The Basque Nationalist Party emerged as the main party among the nationalists with 7,000 votes. The Pro-Independence Left called for a vote of protest and got 4,000 as the Basque Country doesn’t have its own regional institutions. Other nationalists supported the green Europe Ecologie platform.

Outside the majority of polling stations the platform in favour of Basque institutions organised a parallel un-official referendum where the 96% of the 27,000 people who took part said to be in favour of some sort of official recognition for the Basque Country. The referendum organiser congratulated those who took part and criticised the French authorities for trying to ban it.

New pro-independence youth organization launched

100 young people from many different organizations launched a new Basque pro-independence youth group on March 11th. The new group called GaztEHerria (similar to “Basque Youth Nation”) announced that it will work for independence from a left wing perspective and that it will organise an all day long national event on Good Friday in Durango as a first step of what they want to become a mass movement.

Prisoners in hunger strike

From the beginning of the year the Basque political prisoners are immersed in a campaign of protests against their deteriorating situation and in favour of political status. Prisoners have held hunger strikes, lock ups in their cells, picket lines, communications strikes...

Nine prisoners have been in hunger strike since the 1st of March in the French jail of Fleury.

Basques in extradition danger.

London-based Basque pro-independence youth Garikoitz Ibarluzea was arrested last week in his work place by police and has been in jail since.

A campaign has been already organised and can be joined on Facebook:

He appeared via video link in the London Court last Monday to hear about the Spanish extradition request against him. Supporters outside the court buildings claimed the charges are false and based on testimonies gained under torture. Garikoitz himself was tortured in 2002 and moved to London in 2006.

Another Basque facing extradition risk is Belfast based Iñaki de Juana. His case is on appeal at the Belfast High Court. An emergency public meeting regarding the extradition of Iñaki de Juana to Spain will be held on Friday night, March 26, at 7.30pm at Caulfield’s Bar in west Belfast.

The meeting will be addressed by speakers including a Sinn Fein Assembly member, Michael Culbert from ex-prisoners’ support group Coiste, and Iñaki de Juana’s legal team. Veteran Republican activist Joe Austin will chair the discussion.

The event aims to highlight the grave miscarriage of justice that is unfolding, and to show that the local community is rallying behind Iñaki.

The discussion will be followed by a solidarity night with local musicians performing.

17 March 2010

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Basque Info 10/03/09

Basque Info 10/03/09

• Spanish Court sentences Arnaldo Otegi to two years in jail
• Spain launches international criminalization campaign
• Thousands call for pro-independence unity
• Basque women take to the streets on International Women’s Day
• No justice for Basques

Spanish Court sentences Arnaldo Otegi to two years in jail

Last week the Spanish Special Court sentenced Basque Pro-Independence leader Arnaldo Otegi to two years in jail for his speech at a Basque political prisoners solidarity event.

On the 9th June 2005 Otegi told the crowd that the Basque Country could achieve a democratic scenario through negotiations and he added “we owe that to the Basque political prisoners, refuggees and all comrades who have fallen in the struggle and we will achieve it”.

The Spanish Special Court charged Otegi with an offence of “glorifying terrorism”. In the sentence the judges go on to say that Otegi can’t compare Nelson Mandela with Basque political prisoner Joxe Mari Sagardui “Gatza”, who has been in jail for 30 years now, beacuse Mandela “never used violence”.

South African hero Nelson Mandela was the funder of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC, in 1961, publicly defended the need for armed struggle, organized guerrila camps and up until 2008 he was on the USA’s “terrorist list”.

During his trial Otegi defended the Pro-Independence Left’s position to develop a democratic process through exclusively political means while the judges showed their lack of imparciality doing jokes and comments about him.

Otegi was arrested last October just at the beginning of the Pro-Independence Left’s internal debate and has remained in jail since then.

Last weekend a letter writen by Otegi was read at the Sinn Féin’s Ard Fhéis (Annual National Congress). Otegi asked the international community to support the democratic process in the Basque Country.

During the Ard Fhéis there were many motions in support of the Basque struggle for self-determination, the Basque political prisoners and Belfast-based Basque activists fighting extradition Inaki De Juana and Arturo “Benat” Villanueva who last week saw his extradition request finally dismissed.

Spain launches international criminalization campaign

Last week the Spanish authorities claimed that the Venezuelan revolutionary government of Hugo Chavez was supporting ETA. The claims came after a judge in the Spanish Special Court charged several members of ETA and the Colombian guerrillas FARC with “terrorism” for an alleged attempted plot to kill the Colombian president Uribe while visiting Spain.

The Spanish judged went on to say that a training camp had been set up by ETA and FARC in Venezuela and accused the Venezuelan government of helping them out.

President Hugo Chavez responded by saying that if the Spanish Special Court could do it it would charge as a “terrorist” Simon Bolivar, who fought the Spanish Empire to free many Latin American nations in the 19th century.

This international criminalization campaign comes when many international mediators and groups are putting pressure on the Spanish government to respond in a positive manner to the Basque Pro-Independence Left last political decisions to promote a democratic process through exclusively political means.

Thousands call for pro-independence unity

5,000 people took to the streets of Irunea/Pamplona last Saturday to call on all pro-independence forces to come together and develop a democratic process.

The demonstration had been called by citizens of many different backgrounds and it is another step which along with others is trying to activate a growing broad grassroots movement in favour of independence.

The organisers were surprised by the success of the rally (the largest one in the city for some time) and said it proves that there is a will for political and social change in Basque society.

Just in two weeks the new pro-independence grassroots movement Independentistak has got more than 4,500 friends in Facebook.

Basque women take to the streets on International Women’s Day

The Basque feminist movement filled the streets across the Basque Country on Monday to remind that there is still much to do to achieve equality and women’s rights respect.

Every years thousands of people take part in the 8th of March rallies but this year the marches will go on for six days. To coincide with the International Women’s March women will be traveling across the country with their demands.

No justice for Basques

Six years ago a Spanish police man and his son murdered Basque pro-independence activist Anjel Berrueta for refusing to put a poster against ETA in his bakery after the Islamist militant attacks in Madrid which killed more than 200 people.

Despite being sentenced to 20 and 15 years in jail they had been given weekend paroles at least since 2008. The news were just uncovered when someone saw them in the streets. Anjel Berrueta’s family has been object of threats since the killing and were devasted by the news. The killers have even applied for a government’s pardon.

Meanwhile four pro-independence youth were tried last week for some sabotages against bank offices. The prosecution asked for 33 years in jail for each one of them.

The same Spanish Special Court refused last week to judge in Madrid four people arrested in the Basque Country last year accused of being a pro-Spanish fascist gang accused of more than two dozens of attacks against pro-independence activists and clubs.

Basque Info 3/03/10

Basque Info 3/03/10

New pro-independence movement launched

A new broad pro-independence grassroots movement called “Independentistak” was launched last Saturday at a press conference. 70 of the 140 different promoters were present at the event. They come from very different walks of life but agree on the urgent need to unite in favour of Basque independence.

The initial promoters are well known activists, journalists, writers, actors, sports people, politicians...etc. They now want to expand the grassroots movement to all cities and towns in the Basque Country but they will also work in the international arena.

They said they want to reorganize the pro-independence forces but they don’t want to become a political party. Independentistak will work as a pro-independence citizen’s network through exclusively political means but using innovative ways.

They defended the need for independence as the best option for the Basque Country’s future. Nevertheless they will also work together with other bodies that are in favour of a democratic scenario including self-determination for the Basque Country.

As a first step they will call on all pro-independence people to take part in a unified Aberri Eguna (Basque National Day) next Easter Sunday.

Last week the democratic process also received international support. A press conference was organised in the European Parliament to relaunch the Friendship, a group of MEP’s for a democratic resolution to the Basque conflict.

The group was initially launched in 2006 but it has been reshuffled after last year’s European elections. The 12 MEP’s, who belong to three different European political parties, welcomed the conclusions of the Basque Pro-Independence Left’s internal debate and called on the Spanish authorities to engage in a peace process.

The well known South African solicitor and international conflicts mediator Brian Currin also spoke at two public conferences in Madrid and the Basque Country last week. He said that the Basque Pro-Independence Left’s new proposals and commitments are very important. He also asked the Spanish government to respond positively and assured international support will be available if the process becomes stable.

De Juana extradition ruling ‘grossly inhumane’
The decision to allow the extradition of Basque ex-prisoner Iñaki de Juana to Spain is “grossly inhumane” and ignores evidence that the Spanish authorities are knowingly abusing the extradition process, spokesperson for the Don’t Extradite the Basques Campaign Kevin Morrison said today.
“The judge expressed confidence in the Spanish judicial system which we believe is unwarranted,” Morrison said. The Don’t Extradite the Basques Campaign would continue to support Iñaki through his appeal against the judgment, he added.
Risk of death
“During the hearing last November, psychological expert Dr Adrian Grounds testified that Iñaki would face a very serious deterioration in his health and likely, if not certain, death through hunger strike if he was extradited,” Morrison said.
Dr Grounds is a senior university lecturer at Cambridge University and an expert on the impact of imprisonment on the psychological health of detainees.
“During the hearing, the defence also pointed out that the Spanish authorities were knowingly abusing the extradition process because they knew they did not have any evidence against Iñaki, and that the case was politically motivated.
“In court, Dr Grounds said that Iñaki’s previous experiences in Spanish prisons – including repeated beatings and being held in solitary confinement for more than 17 of his total 21 years in jail – had been extremely traumatic.
“The expert also cited the well-known 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.
“This prison experience has left Iñaki suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and absolute exhaustion.
“Dr Grounds said that to return him to the Spanish prison system would very likely result in Iñaki 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 Iñaki’s inability to return to the conditions that had caused his exhaustion and PTSD,” Morrison added.
“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.
“The Don’t Extradite the Basques Campaign will step up its efforts to build awareness of the facts of this case, and public support for Iñaki during the appal process, in light of this ruling,” Morrison concluded.
During the November hearing, Edward Fitzgerald QC, defending, 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.”
Spurious charges
More than 1,000 people have now signed the petition which demands that the British government reject the Spanish government’s extradition requests against Iñaki de Juana and Arturo Villanueva, including MEP Bairbre de Brún, journalist John Pilger, civil rights activist Fearghas Ó hÍr and lawyer Professor Phil Scraton.
The Spanish authorities are trying to extradite former prisoner and hunger-striker, Iñaki de Juana, 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 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.

Repression continues with more arrests and torture reports

Last week two people were arrested in the Basque Country following a police operation which was connected to another eight people being detained in previous weeks. As in previous cases, the arrested reported torture after being held incommunicado for five days.

Another three alleged ETA members were arrested in the northern French region of Normandy last Sunday. As what usually happens after police operations of this kind, the Spanish Interior Minister said one of the arrested was the ETA’s operations’ top leader. After months saying the opposite, he also said that it can’t be denied that there are new political moves within the Pro-Independence movement.

The 2009 Repression Report for the province of Navarre was launched last week and it shows the increase of repression with a record result of 106 political prisoners out of a population of half a million people.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the court buildings in six Basque towns on Friday morning and then presented criticism for the treatment they receive when visiting their relatives in jail. Hundreds more took part in the weekly vigils in the evening across the Basque Country.

Election campaign starts in the north

300 people took part in the first event of the French regional elections campaign organised by the pro-independence left coalition Euskal Herria Bai (Basque Country Yes) in the northern village of Senpere.

Members of the two main nationalist parties in the northern Basque Country addressed the audience along with members of the LAB trade union.

They called on northern Basques to give a protest vote against the French authority’s attitude of contempt towards the Basque Country’s demands for self-government.

Basque Info 27/01/10

Basque Info 27/01/10

• Basque political prisoners start hunger strike
• Historic rally against the High Speed Train
• Fourth session of the Egunkaria trial.
• Five people arrested accused of being ETA members

-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. 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.