Belfast’s Basque community in fear
Belfast’s Basque community in fear

A political activist from the Basque country was arrested in a raid in Belfast this week and faces 14 years in prison if extradited back to Spain.

Arturo Villanueva Arteaga was arrested on foot of a European arrest warrant seeking his extradition to Spain.

In March 2001 Mr Villanueva was among 17 people charged with being members of the Basque youth organisation Segi, a banned organisation.

He was released on bail but failed to turn up for trial.

In January 2005 Spanish prosecutors demanded that Mr Villanueva be sentenced to 14 years in prison in his absence.

There is a small Basque community in west Belfast and there are growing concerns in the community of a new campaign of persecution against them by the Spanish government.

Speaking outside the court, Belfast Basque Committee spokesman Kevin Morrison called for the case against Mr Villanueva to be dropped.

“UN rapporteur Martin Scheinin has recently condemned the Spanish government for targeting Basque groups who have nothing to do with violence,” Mr Morrison said.

“Arturo has been living openly in Belfast for five years and has a life here.

“We are calling for immediate dropping of this case and an overall end to the repression of Basque civil society.”

eirigi spokesperson Breandan Mac Cionnaith called for the legal proceedings to be ended immediately.

Mr Mac Cionnaith said: “This is a clear cut case of political persecution. The Spanish authorities are seeking to prosecute Arturo on charges relating to membership of an open, political organisation - a Basque pro-independence youth movement.

“Over the last decade, the Spanish government has banned a number of perfectly legitimate organisations in the Basque Country, including political parties, youth movements and newspapers, and jailed members of these groups. There are over 700 Basque political prisoners in Spanish jails.”

“Arturo has built a life for himself in this country and has become part of the community in west Belfast. He should be allowed to get on with that life without fear of further persecution.

“It is worrying that this is the second extradition case to be initiated by the Spanish government, and facilitated by the PSNI, against Basque political activists who have chose to live in Ireland.

“eirigi extends its solidarity to Arturo and his partner at what must be a difficult time. I am confident that the community that they have become part of will offer all the support that is needed.”

Mr Villanueva was released on bail and is due to come before the court next month, on the same day as another Basque man fighting extradition, Jose ‘Inaki’ de Juana Chaos, is due to face the court.

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