Ireland: Campaign against extradition of Basque activists launched
The Don't Extradite the Basques Campaign was formally launched on June 10 against the extradition to Spain of Belfast-based Basque pro-independence activists Inaki de Juana and Arturo "Benat" Villanueva at a press conference in west Belfast.
Civil rights activist Fearghas O hir spoke on behalf of the committee and outlined the campaign. He was joined by a range of supporters, including prominent human rights defenders and community activists, demonstrating the broad support for the human and civil rights of the Basque people from across the Belfast community.
An online petition against the extraditions was also launched at the press conference. Initial signatories include Sinn Fein MEP Bairbre de Brun, human rights lawyer Padraigíin Drinan, National Union of Journalists national executive member Eamon McCann, Belfast Sinn Fein chairperson Bobby Storey and former Antrim and St Gall's football club manager Michael Culbert.
The Basque Country crosses the Spanish and French borders. Most Basques live within the Spanish state, where they have struggled for self-determination
De Juana and Villanueva
O hir said: "The Spanish authorities are trying to extradite Inaki de Juana, who served 21 years in Spanish jails, from Belfast, where he moved immediately after his release in August last year, to face questioning related to charges of 'glorifying terrorism'.
"The arrest warrant is based on somebody at a rally in Donostia in August, which was celebrating Inaki'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.
"Inaki was not present at this rally and denies writing such a letter, which Spanish police admit they cannot produce.
"There is no evidence that this comment was Inaki's or that it somehow constitutes a terrorist offence."
O hir said: "There has been a virulent and sustained hate campaign against Inaki by the Spanish media for many years, and Spain's former justice minister has previously publicly called for the judges to 'construct
new charges' against Inaki to 'keep him in jail'.
"It is very clear that behind the warrant for 'questioning' issued by Spain is the agenda of putting Iñaki back in prison, despite the fact that these new charges are baseless."
O hir then outlined the case of Basque youth activist Villanueva, who was arrested in March 2001 by the Spanish police with 15 other young pro-independence activists. He was accused of being a member of Basque pro-independence socialist youth organisation Jarrai.
"While Jarrai is a solely political organisation, it was declared illegal by the Spanish authorities in 2005 and categorised as a 'terrorist' organisation by Spain's Supreme Court in 2007", O hir explained.
"Charged with 'membership of a terrorist organisation, Benat faced a possible 14-year jail sentence for his political activism. Released on bail after 10 months in prison, he did not attend what many believed
to be a political show trial.
"In 2004, Benat decided to seek refuge in Belfast from Spanish political persecution and the risk of torture.
"At the time of Benat's alleged membership of Jarrai (1994-2000), the organisation was legal. The Spanish court is applying the law that criminalised Jarrai retrospectively.
"Benat is being targeted by the Spanish authorities for carrying out political, public and peaceful youth work in the Basque Country. His only 'crime' has been his political ideas in favour of Basque independence and socialism."
"In its effort to prevent the Basque people from exercising their democratic right to self-determination, Spain is breaching several fundamental rights as outlined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression, of peaceful assembly and association, the right to take part in the government of their state and the right not to be subjected to torture or abuse", O hir said.
"Inaki and Benat are clearly being persecuted solely for their political opinions, not for any criminal activity. We believe that there is a serious danger that they will not receive a fair hearing within the Spanish judicial system and face the risk of torture.
"These extradition requests are politically unacceptable and we are calling on all those who support basic civil rights to sign the petition against the extraditions."
The petition demands that the Spanish government respects the fundamental human, civil and political rights of the Basque people as laid out in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and that it ends its campaign of criminalisation against the Basque pro-independence movement.
The petition supports the human right of de Juana and Villanueva to not be persecuted by the Spanish government for their political opinions.
It calls on the British government to immediately reject the extradition requests and to refuse to collaborate with the Spanish government in this political persecution.
Finally, the petition supports the right of de Juana and Villanueva to live freely in Ireland.
[For more information and to sign the petition, visit www.dontextraditethe basques.org.]