The official launch of the Don’t Extradite the Basques Campaign took place last Wednesday [June 10] in Culturlann MacAdam-O Fiaich in Belfast.
The campaign and petition were started in response to attempts by the Spanish state to extradite two Basque political activists living in Belfast, Inaki de Juana and Arturo ‘Benat’ Villanueva.
Inaki moved to Ireland in 2008 following his release from a Spanish prison. He could not return home because of the harassment he faced. Despite this, a rally celebrating his release was held in Donostia.
The organisers read a letter thanking everyone who attended and it was reported that they finished with the popular Basque expression “Aurrera bolie” [Forward with the ball]. Spanish police then claimed that Inaki had written the letter and that the statement called for the continuation of armed struggle.
Arturo ‘Benat’ Villanueva has lived in Belfast since 2004. Like Inaki, he moved to Ireland to escape Spanish political persecution. Arturo was arrested by the PSNI in April 2009 on an extradition warrant, charged with “membership of a terrorist organisation”.
The organisation in question is the Basque political youth organisation Jarrai, which was declared a terrorist organisation by the Spanish Supreme Court in 2007. Arturo has not been a member of Jarrai since 2000.
The anti-extradition campaign was launched by veteran civil rights activist Fergus O hIr. Speaking at the launch, O hIr said: “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.”
The campaign was launched as new details have emerged showing the flimsy nature of Spanish attempts to extradite the two. In Inaki’s case, the arrest warrant is merely to question him about the phrase, and he has not been charged with any offence.
Last Friday [June 12], Arturo and his legal team challenged the retrospective nature of the charges against him in court. In response, the judge stated that the arrest warrant could be thrown out on that basis alone and that he would contact the Spanish authorities about the situation. All parties are due in court again on Friday [June 19] to discuss these developments.
Inaki de Juana
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.
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 Inaki back in prison, despite the fact that he has not committed any offence.
Arturo ‘Benat’ Villanueva
Basque youth activist Arturo ‘Benat’ Villanueva was arrested in March 2001 by the Spanish police, with 15 other young pro-independence activists, and 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.
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.
The British government must abide by another fundamental human right laid out in the UN Declaration: ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’.
Inaki de Juana and Arturo ‘Benat’ Villanueva are clearly being persecuted solely for their political opinions, not for any criminal activity. We believe they will not receive a fair hearing with the Spanish judicial system and face the risk of torture.
The following is the text of the petition.
* We, the undersigned, demand 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.
* We demand that the Spanish government ends its campaign of criminalisation and political persecution against organisations and individuals that are in favour of Basque independence.
* We support the right of Inaki de Juana and Arturo ‘Benat’ Villanueva not to be persecuted by the Spanish government for their political ideas.
* We call on the British government to immediately reject the extradition requests and to refuse to collaborate with the Spanish government’s political persecution of Inaki de Juana and Arturo ‘Benat’ Villanueva.
* We support the right of Inaki de Juana and Arturo ‘Benat’ Villanueva to live freely in Ireland.
The petition can be signed at https://www.gopetition.com/online/28434.html