Prisoners’ fate divides Spain

Marianne BARRIAUX –
ETA may be history but the dilemma of what to do with prisoners linked to the former armed separatist group stirs passions in the Basque Country, where a protest in their favour is due today.
After coming to power in June a month after ETA disbanded, Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez pledged to start reversing an official policy of keeping them scattered across Spain, hundreds of kilometres away from home.
But the conservatives and some of the relatives of the estimated 853 ETA victims fiercely resist this, arguing prisoners should first repudiate the group before they can be allowed closer, which few have done.
Prisoner relatives retort that now ETA is gone, moving them to the Basque Country would help their gradual reintegration in a society where a majority of people and parties are in favour anyway.
And so the dilemma continues. “We think it’s possible to bring all prisoners to Zaballa (Basque jail) and that they start reintegration processes there,” says Teresa Toda of the Social Forum, a group campaigning on behalf on the prisoners.
Currently, 265 people are in prison over their links to ETA, 46 of whom are in France and one in Portugal, says Urtzi Errazkin of Etxerat, an association of prisoner families. The rest are in Spain with very few in the Basque Country, he adds.
Since Sanchez’s announcement, 19 have been or are in the process of being transferred closer to home, a spokeswoman for Spain’s prison authority said.
But only two were sent to the Basque Country after repudiating ETA as part of a government-led reintegration process already in place. Not good enough, says Toda, who herself spent six years in jail.
Deputy-director of Egin, a pro-independence Basque newspaper that was closed down in 1998, she was accused of collaborating with ETA, which she denies.
Kept under the most severe “first degree” regime — like a vast majority of ETA prisoners — she was only allowed out of her cell four hours a day.
Spanish law recommends that authorities avoid “socially uprooting convicts” but authorities implemented the policy of keeping ETA prisoners far from home to try to weaken the organisation. — AFP