A Disturbing Email From The Basque Country

The photo above was taken outside Jingling Geordies pub in Edinburgh in March 2008. Anders (middle) and Edurne (right) were over from Pamplona in the Basque Country to watch a Scotland rugby international. (Anders is Scottish). It was a good night and a few Highland Parks were consumed. The year before this photo was taken my daughter and I had stayed at Anders and Edurne’s flat in Pamplona so it was good to return the hospitality.

Last night Edurne was seized at their Pamplona home by the Spanish police and is currently being held ‘Incommunicado’ in a Spanish prison. For Basques this means five days detention, without access to a lawyer or doctor, and where torture is standard procedure against any Basque person held for suspected political activities, regardless of whether the person was actually involved or not. If Edurne is charged she may be detained for up to four years before the case comes before a court.

It should be recalled that the armed struggle between ETA and the Spanish government is over. One would have to ask why the Spanish state continues this intimidation against Basques. Especially when there is a window of opportunity for peace, where dialogue is being urged by every international observer.

I would stress that Edurne has never been involved in any illegal political activities yet she is now in a terrifying and inhumane situation. Tonight, her partner Anders emailed me a letter in which he describes what happened. It is a disturbing and personal story. With his permission I’ve reprinted it below:

NEWS FROM A SO-CALLED DEMOCRACY

Last night Edurne and I were asleep.

I woke up as if from a dream about the doorbell. It was our doorbell and loud banging on the door of the flat.

Through the peephole, I saw helmets and masked, armed men, shouting,

– POLICE!!! OPEN UP OR WE’LL KNOCK THE DOOR DOWN!!!

I turned to see her, barely awake, and said

– it’s the police…

– what?!

More banging.

I opened the door, hands up, and said: what’s going on? – as they shoved me back – do you have an entry order?!

– NO NEED. TURN AROUND. IN THERE. HANDS UP, FACING THE WALL!

They went to Edurne and said she was under Incommunicado arrest, for “integration in an armed group” (this figure, often used by the Spanish courts, has been shown to cover just about everything from actually having guns, etc. to speaking at a public rally in favour of as peace process. See Martin Scheinin, UN Special Rapporteur’s report on Spain).

My heart sank to my feet. It was 02:50. Not the milkman, Mr. Churchill.

To cut a long story short, they turned the flat inside out, looking for goodness knows what. They took my hard drive, my iPod, the hard drive from my work laptop and a couple of USB pendrives. They took Edurne’s cameras, mine, her phone, my diary; they ripped up boxes and envelopes… I still don’t know what else is missing, because of the state in which they left the flat.

I spent the three hours the search took under custody of two large Special Operations uniformed, armed, policemen, while the masked men (and one woman) went about their business, sharing the odd joke. I repeatedly demanded my constitutional right to witness the search.

– REQUEST DENIED, THE COURT SECRETARY IS HERE
– Which one of you is he? May I talk to him?
– NO.

I stated that they were going through stuff of mine, that I had a right to see what was going on.

– NO

The only solace we got was a quick hug, before they took her away, handcuffed, downstairs and (as I found out later) marched her in front of the TV crews who had somehow got a hold of the “scoop” (common practice by someone in the system, to ensure the media are aware, so they can record the police’s daring exploits).

The search of her workplace took two and a half hours. Pretty much the same story.

Her Dad (who is her boss) was allowed to be present, but not to talk to her.

– SHE IS UNDER INCOMMUNICADO DETENTION.

After that, she was marched off again, this time with a hood over her head. I ran after the armed police, shouting the Basque equivalent of: keep the heid! Remember not to believe anything they say to you! We will be fine! remember not to sign a statement! I love you! We love you!

Her parents are distraught. Some 10 other people were arrested in the Basque province of Navarre last night. We have met with the lawyer and she has told us what most people in this country know. Incommunicado detention means 5 days with no access to a lawyer or a doctor. It means illegal interrogation by the Security Forces, psychological terror, forced postures, threats to yourself and your loved ones, lies “your mother has had a heart attack and died” (repeated over and over, until you believe it). It may mean sexual abuse, beatings, suffocation with a plastic bag…

There is nothing we can do right now. It won’t do to keep going over and over the torture methods the Spanish Security Forces are known to use (see former UN Special Rapporteur Theo van Boven’s reports on Spain, Amnesty Intl. yearly reports on Spain, etc.).

We will probably know nothing until Saturday, when the 120 hours of incommunicado detention are up. After that, Edurne and the others will be taken before the investigating judge. This particular one systematically refuses detainees the assistance of their own lawyers even when appearing before him, he systematically refuses habeas corpus.

We will travel to Madrid, to the Audiencia Nacional, the special court directly descended from the Francoist “Public Order Tribunal”. And wait.

Thereafter, Edurne may be released under bail or remanded in custody. This, in practice can mean up to 4 years of pre-trial imprisonment, in one or various gaols hundreds of kilometres away from home. If that happens, we will go through mountains of bureaucracy and long journeys to see her for 40 minutes, a week. Because we will not leave her on her own. We haven’t. We won’t. Ever.

You all know Edurne. She is a nice girl, she’s into cooking and Basque dancing. She loves watching Scotland play rugby (surely a sign of a strong heart!). She has never been involved in anything illegal, but she has certainly done her bit to support friends and other people who have gone through the ordeal she is going through now. It is common sense. And ethics.

The Spanish Government is doing this as a show of strength and in a deliberate attempt to frustrate the radical move away from armed conflict currently ongoing in the Basque Country.

I must ask you to bear this wee letter in mind. Maybe you want to write to your MP: what is the position of the UK on their EU partner’s actions? Maybe you just want to tell your friends about this.

Believe me, disbelieve the stuff coming out of the Spanish press and their securocratic masters: what I have written here today is true.

Before going to bed, Edurne and I watched Star wars, Episode IV, also known as “A New Hope”. Terrible that the evil empire should disturb our dreams so easily.

Keep the heid!

We love you Edurne!

Ander Larunbe Anderson. 18 January 2011.

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  1. Tocasaid says:

    Sad stuff indeed. I’ve visited the Basque Country on numerous occasions and have met and stayed with language activists as well as political activists – usually one and the same there – though none of them supportive of violent struggle. I’ve heard many horror stories such as the one above. Even an anarchist-pacifist – hardly an ETA sympathiser – was carted off to a prison in the south on the suspicion of ‘nationalist activities’. On one visit I heard that the directors of a Basque language college had been rounded up too.

    These folk are usually kept hundreds of miles away as the Spanish government has a policy of not keeping them within the Basque Country. They are often held for months before suddenly being released without charge. Little wonder that banners calling for ‘Basque prisoners to the Basque Country’ are seen all over.

    All the best to our Basque comrades.

  2. lenathehyena says:

    This is a dreadful situation. It never fails to depress me the depths democratic states will plumb in pursuit of those who dare to challenge them.

  3. Aran says:

    Wishing both Edurne and Anders the strength they will need to deal with the injustice and brutality they are faced with, and wishing a happier future for the people of Euskal Herria.

  4. vera says:

    Since Spain is one of the countries circling the drain in the debt crisis, could this action be part of many coming up to escalate an old problem to take attention away from the real crisis and real culprits?

  5. Aran says:

    I know of two MPs from Wales who have been asked to request the Foreign Office to request the immediate release of Edurne. I have little trust in the UK Foreign Office – but wanted to let you know that people are passing this on.

  6. David McCann says:

    This is a dreadful situation in a so called democratic country. Spain is a member of the EU, and as such surely they have to comply with EU Human rights legislation.We must all do what we can to raise awareness of the situation. In the meantime please pass on our best wishes and support.

  7. Aroa says:

    I think foreign people must be careful to give opinions about a punctual situation that is not from their country. For you maybe a picturesque situation to make a picture on a blog, behind this there is thousand of deaths, The first who do not respect Democracy is ETA. What is the democracy that they offer? How many people have been forced to leave my region due to ETA? agur

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