euskadi repressione di stato internazionale

Joseba Agudo Manzisidor*

Basque political prisoner Iñaki de Juana’s hunger strike has been in the media in recent weeks. After 63 days on hunger strike demanding justice and attending the numerous requests he received and the mobilisation of Basque society, De Juana ended his protest. He began his hunger strike due to the attempt by the Spanish State Prosecution to get him sentenced to 96 years in jail for writing two press articles. This attempt was in line with the government policy of prevent Basque prisoners who have served their sentences being released, as the Justice Minister said “we shall build new charges against them”.
Therefore, on the one hand, we should not lower our guard in regard to Iñaki de Juana’s situation. The trail for these press articles will take place on October 27, at the Spanish Audiencia Nacional, a special court (the direct heir of the Francoist TOP) which deals with the political crimes of Basque activists.

On the other hand, we must not forget that Iñaki de Juana’s situation is but another example of the most recent turn of the screw of repression by the Spanish state, the pseudo-legal expression of which can be found in the doctrine set by verdict 197/2006 of the Spanish Supreme Court, which retroactively cancels remission for prisoners who were entitled to it according to Spanish law. In practice, this means that 19 prisoners who should have been released in recent months, after serving 12, 14 or 18 years in prison, or prisoners who were about to be released, have all had their sentences extended for years, until they have spent 30 years in jail.

In addition to this de facto life sentence, we have the de iure life sentence applied against 4 Basque prisoners in the French state. The most recent expression of this has been the recent refusal of parole for Filipe Bidart. This Basque prisoner has already spent 18 years in filthy French jails and his bid for release has been refused for strictly political reasons.

This being the situation, on October 7, thousands of people marched through the streets of Donostia in response to the call by the majority of organised Basque civil society, under the banner of the Ibaeta Forum. Not limited to an expression of abstract solidarity, the call by the Forum was centred on three explicit demands: the release of the 6 Basque prisoners with serious, incurable diseases; the release of the approximately 135 prisoners who have served the proportion of their sentence which entitles them to parole, and the repatriation of the Basque Political Prisoners’ Collective to the Basque Country, in full possession of their legitimate rights.

Precisely, meeting this last demand would open up a line that would allow a change from a penitentiary policy designed for war to a penitentiary policy aimed at conflict resolution, aimed at respecting rights.

We should not fool ourselves; the existence of Basque political prisoners is not a matter of public order or of terrorism. The fact that there are currently upwards of 600 Basque men and women, dispersed and isolated in over 80 jails in the Spanish and French states is a consequence of an unresolved political conflict in the Basque Country. These men and women are activists committed to the national and social liberation struggle in the Basque Country and, they have been jailed because the states have, to date, always chosen the path of repression and violence as their main response to a conflict based on the denial of the existence of the Basque nation, and of all the rights derived from this existence, beginning by the fundamental right to self determination. As Argi Perurena, one of the official representatives of the Prisoners’ Collective said in an interview published on October 15, “there are prisoners because the rights of the Basque Country are violated. As long as the real problem is not addressed, we shall continue to be held in prison and we shall continue to place all our political capital, from these prisons, at the service of the search for a democratic solution to the conflict”.

Therefore, the Basque political prisoners, organised into a Collective (EPPK is its Basque acronym) are a political actor in this conflict. Consequently, the Collective is not only entitled to the basic rights that a person does not lose, in theory, upon being sent to prison; they are also entitled to political rights, to the right to participate together with all the other Basque political and social actors, in the debate, in the ongoing political process.

Respect for all of the rights of the Collective equates to acknowledging Political Prisoner Status. Acknowledgment of Political Status is particularly important at a time when there is an opening, an opportunity to overcome the root causes of the political conflict in the Basque Country. The present is an opportunity to tackle the real problem, which is not a simple, technical matter of solving the consequences of the conflict; “the problem in this country” according to Juan Lorenzo Lasa Mitxelena, another spokesperson of the Collective in the aforementioned interview, “comes from the national oppression we suffer, and the solution to the conflict will come from understanding and accepting self-determination, territorial unity and amnesty. As political actors, our contribution will take place in the exchange of views with other political actors and in building the process together with them; that is the contribution we can make”.

It is important to realise that the participation of the Prisoners’ Collective in the process is simultaneously a legitimate demand by a human community that is inextricably involved in the conflict and a guarantee that the process is being built upon solid foundations. In turn, the Collective itself never ceases to remind us that the aim of the process, if we are to achieve a just and lasting peace, is to overcome the aforementioned Gordian knot, the profound cause of the conflict: denial through force of the ability of the Basque People do decide our own future. “The people are clear that they want to be the owners of their future and that, in order for this to be so, their basic rights must be respected: self determination and territorial unity” (A. Perurena)

Nevertheless, it would not be realistic to think that these two basic pillars of conflict resolution can be tackled in a just way by political actors in the Basque Country if the states continue down the road of repression. If one of the parties is subjected to permanent blackmail, whether through pressure against the political prisoners or through the constant application of a special legislation that violates the most elementary political rights of Basque citizens, it will not be possible to achieve a just and lasting solution.

This is not a trivial question; history (the recent history of the so-called Spanish transition, for instance) indicates that the conditions under which any conflict resolution process takes place affect its probability of success. Therefore, we demand democratic conditions for the Basque Country; so that the Basque people can indeed decide upon their own future, in peace and freedom.

*Joseba Agudo Manzisidor, lawyer and member of Askatasuna