17 November 2005 Edition
Well known Basque figures targeted
International - Basque independence movement on trial
On Monday 21 November, the Spanish Government will put on trial 59 Basque citizens out of 200 arrested and imprisoned in police operations. These were ordered by the Audiencia Nacional's Judge Baltasar Garzón against the Basque pro-independence movement. The Audiencia Nacional is a special court with an investigative capacity.
Those going to trial represent organisations declared illegal by the right-wing government of Jose Maria Aznar and include well-known figures in Basque public life. The prosecutions are an attempt to link pro-independence Basque political positions with the activities of the armed organisation ETA. However, even within the Spanish judiciary there are doubts that there is any evidence to sustain such legal argument.
Three of the 62 defendants have been excluded from trial for illness or death. Initially the process will look at police operations against the organisations KAS, Egin, Ardi Beltza, Xaki and Ekin. It is expected the case will last six months and be followed by further court cases against the other Basque organisations.
The following is a summary of the cases as published by Basque daily GARA (There are other cases pending such as the closure of the political magazine Ardi Beltza or the newspaper Egunkaria).
AEK is an organisation dedicated to the promotion and teaching of the Basque language among adults. In May 1998 Garzón ordered a raid on its premises. Twelve people were arrested and charged with financing ETA. By the end of year 2001, the judge admitted there wasn't enough evidence to sustain that accusation and decided to transfer the investigation, now reduced to supposed financial irregularities, to Bilbao's civil court.
Closure of Egin
Three years after the closure of daily newspaper Egin and radio station Egin Irratia in 1998, Garzón decided to change the proceedings and so, most of those who had been charged initially with membership of ETA became only "collaborators".
Garzón believed that all those involved in the Xaki initiative — a think-tank formed by Basque pro-independence activists aimed at spreading their perspective on the Basque conflict to the international community — were members of the international apparatus of ETA. This was despite the fact that Xaki's activities were public and legal at the time.
Pepe Rei is a well-known journalist who had been arrested and charged with membership of ETA. No evidence to substantiate the case against him has been presented yet.
This case includes individuals arrested for promoting civil disobedience against the Spanish state and members of the organisation Ekin. Six of those arrested during the investigation were released on bail in December 2001 after it was found that they had been held for a year without sufficient evidence.
The police operation against Haika came after a very public campaign by the Spanish judiciary against the Basque pro-independence youth movement. Thirty of those arrested went to court early this year and 24 were sentenced to serve time for illegal association.
However, the sentence of the court was a victory for the pro-independence movement, as it indicated that the actions of the youth organisation cannot be considered 'terrorism'. This undermines Garzón's position that, independently of the nature of the activities, having a common aim with ETA makes a political or social organisation's activities illegal.
Segi, created as a substitute for Haika after its suppression, was in turn made illegal, just eight months after its creation.
Eleven people working in support of the rights of Basque political prisoners were imprisoned during a police operation signed again by Baltasar Garzón in October 2001.
The organisation defending Basque political prisoners was declared illegal on 5 February 2001.
In January 2002, Garzón confirmed the imprisonment of ten of the eleven people arrested during the judicial operation against the political party Batasuna. In his proceedings he described the party as "the biggest ETA enterprise". Garzón also claimed Batasuna had civil responsibility for damages caused by rioting and he seized the balance of 109 bank accounts and impounded 75 offices and buildings he considered linked to the Basque party.