By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)
They put a hood over my head. They beat me up. They hit me in the testicles a lot. One of them cocked a gun and put it to my head. One of them put a plastic bag over my head. Every so often he would close it putting his hands around my neck causing me to suffocate. They tied me to a foam mattress and they put my head inside freezing water.
This is an extract from a statement made by Gorka Lupianez a young Basque nationalist following his arrest by the Spanish police last December.
Lupianez was held incommunicado for 13 days before his family or solicitor got permission to visit him in prison.
Elsewhere in the statement Lupianez alleges, during several days of interrogation, that he was stripped naked, blindfolded and forced repeatedly to do exhausting physical exercises.
Torture allegations similar to this are being made by many Basques arrested by the Spanish police.
Amnesty International has condemned the Spanish government for this brutality.
The torture allegations come against a background of increased political repression throughout the Basque country by the Madrid-based government of Prime Minister Jose Zapatero.
Other measures adopted by the Spanish government include banning Basque political parties demanding independence, closing down newspapers making similar demands, proscribing marches in support of Basque independence and political prisoners.
The Spanish government is holding more than 700 political prisoners, some of them are very ill, many others have completed their sentences but the government refuses to release them; one prisoner has been in jail for 27 years.
Several people working on the newspaper Egin are serving long prison sentences for publishing the paper.
Almost the entire political leadership of Batasuna, the best known party demanding Basque independence, is now behind bars. Batasuna was banned in 2003.
The Spanish Supreme Court charged a former president of the Basque parliament and two vice-presidents when the Basque parliament refused to ban the organisation which replaced Batasuna after it was declared illegal.
This offensive against the Basque nation resembles the time when British prime minister Margaret Thatcher foolishly thought she should defeat republicans through a combination of oppressive measures.
Zapatero seems to foolishly believe that the political conflict between Spain and the Basque country is amenable to a military solution on Spain’s terms despite the obvious fact that for decades this has eluded the Spanish military authorities.
The Spanish government’s offensive also coincided with a major initiative by Eta who called off their armed struggle in 2006 declaring a ‘permanent ceasefire’.
Last June Eta resumed its armed struggle after a series of provocative actions by the Spanish government which were interpreted by many Basque nationalists, including Eta, as an insult to those trying to find a peaceful way out of the 40-year-old armed conflict.
At the time of Eta’s ceasefire there was great hope across the Basque country and Spain that peace would replace decades of war and conflict.
The potential generated by ETA’s ceasefire and the Spanish government’s initial positive response inspired that hope.
Those days of high expectation have been replaced with despair and disbelief that the Spanish government would squander the opportunity offered to it through Eta’s ‘permanent ceasefire’ declaration.
It is far from clear why the Spanish government spurned the offer made by Eta and derailed all-party peace talks aimed at creating a framework for negotiations.
Three weeks ago an all-party delegation from the Basque Country visited the Stormont assembly to learn about the peace process here.
They would have heard conflicting accounts from unionists and nationalists about the last 15 years of the peace process and how that process delivered new political institutions.
However, the message they left with was an optimistic one - if the conflict in Ireland can be brought to a just end so can the conflict in the Basque country.
In a few weeks time there will be a general election in Spain and the Basque country.
A new government will be elected.
That government must hear and listen to the message from Ireland.