Basque activist fights extradition

November 21, 2008

Basque nationalist Inaki de Juana Chaos voluntarily appeared in court in Belfast on November 17 following the issueing of a European arrest warrant by the Spanish authorities to the Police Service of Northern Ireland on November 13.

The Spanish warrant states that on August 2, de Juana Chaos, who is a former Spanish prisoner for his actions as a member of the armed Basque independence group Basque Homeland and Freedom (ETA), gave a woman a letter to be read out in his name at a rally in San Sebastian in Euskal Herria (Basque Country), that allegedly "praised terrorism".

However, the Spanish authorities admit they do not have this letter and de Juana Chaos's defence lawyers stated in court his client did not authorise anyone to speak on his behalf.

The comment allegedly read out at the rally was "Aurrera bolie!" — a Basque football expression meaning "kick it up the field!".

Spanish authorities insist this qualifies as an incitement to terrorism. This is the evidence the Spanish case rests on.

De Juana Chaos, who the court heard has been living in Belfast for the past six weeks, was released on bail and will reappear in court on November 28, where he has said he will fight the extradition proceedings.

This is not the first time the Spanish courts have tried to keep de Juana Chaos behind bars on dubious legal grounds. He had originally been sentenced in 1987 to 3000 years imprisonment (that's not a typo) for his role in ETA attacks on Spanish military and police targets during the 1980s.

However under the existing sentencing guidelines, he became eligible for release in 2004 after 18 years.

However, he was then sentenced to a further 12 years for two articles published in the Basque pro-independence newspaper Gara, which a Spanish court claimed were "threatening" to the well-known public, political and judicial figures (deemed "targets" by the court) that he criticised in his writings.

Following hunger strikes in 2006 in protest, during which he came close to death, de Juana Chaos's sentence was reduced to three years, which he finished serving on August 2 this year.

De Juana Chaos's defence lawyers described the arrest warrant as "fundamentally flawed" and said that the Spanish government "have clearly made an error in law".

The continued harassment of de Juana Chaos comes at a time of increased repression in the Basque Country, with the Spanish Supreme Court last year banning a number of political parties — the Communist Party of the Basque Homeland (EHAK), the Basque Nationalist Action (ANV) and various youth organisations.

This follows the 2003 "permanent ban" of the pro-independence Batasuna party.

The banning of Batasuna, which usually polls between 10-20% of the vote in the Basque Country, marked the first time since the 1975 death of the fascist dictator General Franco that a political party has been banned in the Spanish state.

There are currently more than 700 pro-independence Basque activists in Spanish jails. Spain claimed to have arrested the alleged head of ETA, Mikel de Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina, in France on November 17, according to a BBC News report that day.

Despite the repression, 20,000 people marched on October 26 in six Basque towns, demanding a referendum on the right to independence, according to a BBC News report that day.

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