24 January 2012

Basque Info 10th-23rd February 2012

In this issue:
• Political prisoners’ situation continues to set the agenda in the Basque Country
• Repression and resistance summary

Political prisoners’ situation continues to set the agenda in the Basque Country
The huge demonstration that filled the streets of Bilbao on Saturday 7th January gave rise to multiple reactions and declarations throughout the week. The sponsors emphasized the historical dimension of the demonstration. Different political parties and representatives of the Spanish Government itself were forced to comment due to the wide media coverage of the demonstration.

The demonstration’s promoters, the Egin Degazun Bidea platform, called it a clear expression of popular will and also expressed their thanks to all who made this popular mobilization possible. They stated that the demonstration was an enormous step and underlined the need for new steps to be taken: “It is time to move on from words to deeds.”

They also called on the Spanish and French governments to be courageous and to “immediately end this cruel penitentiary policy.” “Basque society has spoken clearly and it’s time for both states to take steps that connect with the majority of Basque society.” They pointed out that laws aren’t any obstacle and mustn’t be an excuse if there is the political will to modify them.

Finally they addressed Basque Country society upon which they called to organize themselves and continue mobilizing in defense of the rights of prisoners and political exiles.

Two days later in a new appearance, Egin Degazan Bidea announced two principal initiatives they intend in order to continue to advance.

A reflection process in the herri bilgunes (local groups for the initiative) to articulate popular participation. Saturday’s mobilization showed that thousands of people are willing to work for prisoners’ rights and the most efficient way must be found to energize this movement.

The intensification of contacts with other agencies in the country on two fronts: to make the commitments in hand more efficient and to try to reach new agreements with other agencies.

The objective of all this is to gain respect for the rights of prisoners as a first step in changing the penitentiary policy and in that way advancing towards a resolution of the conflict that brings with it the return of the prisoners and exiles.

However in Madrid the PP Government, ignoring the wishes of the majority of Basque citizens, tried to play down the mobilization and to shrug off the pressure for a change the penitentiary policy.

On state television, the Interior Minister said that the Government wasn’t going to be pressured and they were going to continue to apply the current policy. What’s more, they tried to avoid responsibility and said that the demand should be for ETA to dissolve itself completely. They also insisted that the Government was not going to apply penitentiary policy collectively but according to individual cases.

From the Spanish opposition PSOE, Eduardo Madina, Secretary General of the Socialist Group in Parliament, called on the PP to be brave, stating that within the law there is room for movement and certain political steps can be taken to consolidate a scenario of peace and complete freedom.

In a communiqué sent to the Gara newspaper, the Association of Basque Political Prisoners (EPPK) wished to congratulate the organizers and all of the people who took part in the demonstration. They expressed pride in the people of the Basque Country. “The social and political support received by each and every one of us and for the petitions and initiatives of the EPPK have been amazing,” they said.

In the communiqué the Association stated that the Government was wrong to suggest individual solutions for its members. “There will be no individual solutions, ignoring the general and collective point of view, without confronting the political problem,” they said.

The prisoners also expressed their willingness to take new steps in contribution to the democratic process underway in the Basque Country. They said that for the collective the concept of “amnesty” means an integral democratic solution -- a democratic process that brings all prisoners and refugees home.

Meanwhile, Basque political prisoner Inaki Erro (25 years in jail) was taken to hospital after suffering a stroke. He should have been released years ago after completing three-quarters of his sentence.

Repression news

• A couple of weeks after he denounced his 8-year prison sentence for his political work, Basque pro-independence young activist Ekaitz Samaniego suddenly turned up at the end of a large demonstration organised to support him in his home town of Gasteiz/Vitoria on Saturday 14th. He was then arrested by the Basque-Spanish police and sent to jail. Video: http://www.gara.net/bideoak/120114_ekaitz/

• Six other youth were given up to six years’ jail last Monday accused of being member of the political pro-independence youth organization Segi, banned by the Spanish authorities seven years ago. Protests have been organised in their local area.

• Nineteen people from the town of Laudio are facing up to six years in jail each for disrupting a local council’s meeting to protest against the banning of Basque pro-independence election candidates.

• The Abertzale (pro-Independence) Left organised a commemoration to remember the four local people murdered 32 years ago by Spanish death squads in Alonsotegi’s bar near Bilbao.

• Christian Casteigts was 22 in 1985 when a Spanish death squad’s bomb exploded under his car in Baiona (under French rule). Badly injured and left paraplegic, he never recovered from his injuries and he passed away last week at the age of forty-nine.

• Three alleged ETA members were arrested near Paris last week. This is the first police operation against ETA since the new conservative PP government took office in the Spanish state.

• Hundreds of people marched through the small town of Noain last Sunday to demand the release of Miguel Angel Llamas “Pitu” a well-known local journalist, on the first anniversary of his imprisonment. The charges are based on his professional work. He ran a very popular news website focused on political repression and prisoners’ solidarity. Dozens of journalists have signed a petition to demand his release.

• Hundreds of people held a press conference in Altsasu last week to denounce the Spanish judiciary’s latest attack on freedom of speech. The local pro-independence Mayor and two other activists were indicted for a street performance entitled “The king’s speech” organised to denounce the police harassment the town suffers on a daily basis. The indictment came after a huge criminalization campaign in the Spanish media.

• Yesterday an English court accepted the extradition warrant issued by the Spanish authorities for Basque political refugee Eneko Gogeaskoetxea. His defence team will now appeal. Eneko has been held in the London jail of Belmarsh in draconian conditions for seven months.

• Basque pro-independence activist Unai Hernandez was jailed last week to complete a seven-year jail sentence given for his exclusively political activities.

11 January 2012

Basque Info 27th December – 9th January

In this issue:
Colossal demonstration calls for repatriation of prisoners and exiles
• Solidarity with young activist

Colossal demonstration calls for repatriation of prisoners and exiles

Demo’s video: http://www.gara.net/bideoak/120107_kolosala2/

Last Saturday Bilbao witnessed one of the largest demonstrations ever held in the Basque Country. According to usually reliable estimates over 110,000 people attended the march which had been organised and supported by a myriad of political parties, trade unions and social movements to demand the repatriation of all Basque political prisoners and exiles. It also asked for the immediate release of seriously ill prisoners (eight) and those who have already served two-thirds and three-fourths of their sentences (175 prisoners) as well as those who have already served 100% (58 prisoners). According to Etxerat, the association of relatives of Basque political prisoners and exiles, there are currently 665 prisoners scattered in 71 jails in seven different countries (but the vast majority in the Spanish and French states). Only eight are held in prisons in the Basque Country.

The crowd was so big that it proved very hard for the head of it to move forward. A banner carried by well known musicians, artists, ex-prisoners, sports people and former IRA hunger striker and Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan read in Basque and English: “Repatriate All Basque Prisoners with all their rights.” Leading the march hundreds of prisoners’ relatives walked holding flags with the repatriation campaign logo and slogan (the Spanish National Court had banned them from carrying photographs of prisoners or from calling them political prisoners). Behind all of them there were representatives of the majority of Basque trade unions and nationalist parties along with thousands upon thousands of anonymous citizens.

Despite the presence of dozens of police vans and anti-riot police, some of them even within the body of the actual march, and the threats of the local government and the prohibitions of the Spanish National Court, the march was peaceful.

At the final speech the organisers said: “There are no excuses anymore. There is no place for more delay. From tomorrow, Basque society doesn’t expect anything but the removal of all the cruel and exceptional measures applied to Basque prisoners. By doing so a grey period would come to an end and it would open the door to a new time which will bring us to a new situation of freedom and rights for all, to a situation of definite peace without prisoners and exiles.”

Pressure is growing on the newly-elected conservative Spanish government to make a move. Even the unionist Spanish Socialist Party in office in the two Basque regional governments has said the prisoners should be transfered to jails in the Basque Country. A Spanish government survey showed last week that the majority of Basque people support the repatriation of Basque political prisoners, negotiations between ETA and the government, the right to self-determination and the legalization of the Basque Pro-Independence Left.

The Spanish Government reaction has been to say that they won’t proceed to collective releases but will apply the measures contained in the law.

Solidarity with young activist

22 year-old pro-independence activist Ekaitz Samaniego has been at the centre of a wave of solidarity during the last week of the year. Ekaitz was sentenced to eight years in jail recently, acused of being a member of the Basque pro-independence revolutionary youth organisation Segi which was banned by the Spanish authorities in 2005.

Basque pro-independence political youth activists and their organizations have been butally harassed and attacked by Spanish and French police and judiciary over the past 10 years. Three organizations have been banned and over 300 members arrested, tortured and sentenced to up to eight years in jail because of their political and public work.

Ekaitz is the last of a long black list but many more remain in jail or under the threat of arrest. This time, a broad campaign of solidarity has been backing him in his local town of Gasteiz/Vitoria. Fifty people along with Ekaitz himself spent a week on protest in a local church and received the support of hundreds of people. At the end of the week Ekaitz decided “to go underground to highlight his situation and that of many other activists.” He’ll be staying in supporters’ homes until he decides what’s the best time to return to the public eye.