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13 February 1997 Edition

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Basque POW murdered

By Eoin O'Broin

During the Irish-Basque Solidarity Group's week of activities to highlight the conditions of Basque political prisoners in jails in Spain and France, news emerged from Spain that 43 year old Basque prisoner Jose Maria Aranzamendi was found hanged in a Madrid jail on 7 February. It was later reported that his hands and feet were tied at the time of his death.

Aranzamendi's death provoked a weekend of fierce rioting in the Basque Country in which millions of pesetas worth of damage was caused and 36 people were arrested.

The Irish-Basque group's events took place in Belfast and Dublin and culminated in an occupation of the Spanish Embassy on Monday 10 February.

Speaking before the occupation Idoia Blanco of the Irish-Basque Solidarity Group blamed Jose Maria Aranzamendi's death on the Spanish authorities and said, ``we are holding these activities to highlight the intolerable conditions suffered by Basque political prisoners and their families. The Spanish and French states have, for ten years now, operated a policy of dispersion whereby Basque political prisoners are scattered throughout the state, far from their families. This policy not only affects the prisoners but has a direct impact on their families and friends who have to travel long distances to visit their loved ones''.

There are currently 540 Basque prisoners dispersed in jails across Spain and France. 132 have finished their sentences but have been denied release, and a further 5 are suffering from incurable illnesses. During the past three years 250 cases of physical assault have been recorded, relatives have lost their lives in car accidents while travelling to and from prison visits, and 11 prisoners have died while in custody since 1986.

Prisoners are not allowed to speak in Basque, participate in sport or continue their studies. Medical attention is almost non existent and transfers from one jail to another, and from one block to another are frequent.

The Irish-Basque Solidarity Group called on the Spanish and French governments to repatriate all political prisoners to jails in the Basque country. They also called for respect for human rights in the prisons and for the release of prisoners who have served 3/4 of their sentences and of those who have incurable illness.

Both An Phoblacht and the Solidarity Group attempted to get an official response from the Spanish embassy in Dublin but none was forthcoming.

 
In Madrid on Monday ETA shot dead Supreme Court Judge Rafael Martinez Emperador. Hours earlier they detonated a car bomb in Grenada which killed a military base employee.
Last week the Supreme Court ordered the imprisonment of five members of the national executive of Herri Batasuna, the party of left-wing Basque nationalism, when they refused to answer summonses that they promoted ETA in an election video. The rest of the executive is expected to be jailed soon. One member, Eugenio Aranburu, aged 41, was found hanging from the ceiling in his home. he had been due to appear in court this week.
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