Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has called on the Spanish Government to release Basque Nationalist Leader Arnaldo Otegi. Mr Adams said that Mr Ortegi’s continued imprisonment made building a peace process in the Basque country more difficult.
“The continued imprisonment of Basque nationalist leader Arnaldo Otegi is not only undemocratic, but flies in the face of the most basic principles of conflict resolution,” Mr Adams said.
“Arnaldo was arrested and imprisoned in October 2009 with other members of the Basque independence movement including Rafa Diez former secretary general of the trade union LAB. They were accused of trying to reorganize [outlawed political party] Batasuna and prepare a new strategy.
“Having been in the Basque Country many times and knowing Arnaldo personally I am convinced that his primary political aim is to bring about a democratic and peaceful resolution to the conflict between the Basque Country and France and Spain. He is a widely respected political figure with a clear and significant political mandate. His continued imprisonment makes peace building in the Basque Country more difficult.
Mr Adams said that Batasuna was working to develop a clear strategy to break the political deadlock in the Basque conflict.
“They have made clear their commitment to take the unilateral steps in favour of a democratic peace process. They have also committed themselves to using exclusively political and democratic means in line with the Mitchell Principles.
“They want to see multiparty talks taking place in a non-violent context. There is now a real chance to develop a credible peace process in the Basque country.
“Arnaldo Otegi as one of the key leaders of the Basque independence movement has played an important role in all of this. Despite all of this Arnaldo is still in prison.
“He is one of a large number of political activists imprisoned for seeking to advance the political agenda of Batasuna. Some have been released on bail, but have had their political rights limited and are not allowed to participate in any political event, private political meetings, marches, or any kind of political activity.
“This amounts to a policy of criminalisation by the Spanish government as harsh as that practiced by the British Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher in Ireland during the 1980s.
While no two conflicts are the same, and no two peace processes are identical, there are some basic principles that are required for a successful transition from conflict to peace and democracy to be achieved.
“Central to this is a process of political dialogue between the political leaders of each side to the conflict. Banning, censoring and imprisoning political ideas, political parties and political leaders undermines this.”
The Irish Basque Solidarity Committee said this week that Basque political prisoner Arkaitz Agirregabiria has been on hunger strike for 30 days and had lost 15 kilos.
Arkaitz begun his hunger strike to protest his solitary confinement in a French jail 900 kilometres from home.
About 730 Basque political prisoners are scattered throughout 85 jails as a consequence of the so-called dispersal policy imposed by the Spanish and French authorities.
Another Basque prisoner, Asier Aranguren, ended a 20-day hunger strike after he was released from a French jail on Monday having finished his sentence of eight years.
The French police usually take released Basque prisoners from the jail gates to the border and hand them over to the Spanish police in an apparently illegal procedure. Fortunately the Spanish police didn’t arrest him and he was welcomed in his home town of Irunea/Pamplona later that day.
In Belfast, an extradition hearing for Basque political refugee Fermin Vila will be held on the October 1. Fermin was arrested two weeks ago in Belfast and remanded in custody to Maghaberry jail.