Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson has said the countdown is on for Basque pro-independence leader Arnaldo Otegi to be released from a Spanish jail on March 1. Ms Anderson was speaking from the Basque Country where she has taken part in a European Parliament delegation investigating human rights abuses against Basque prisoners.
She said: “Last March I spoke at the launch in the European Parliament of an international campaign for the release of Arnaldo Otegi and to bring Basque prisoners home. While I am delighted that Arnaldo is soon to be released and can return to his family and community, I’m appalled that he received this sentence in the first place.
“Since the 1990s, Otegi has been acknowledged as the leader of the Basque pro-independence political movement – and he has also faced unrelenting political persecution by Spanish authorities.
“Among the outrageous political charges that have been brought against him include being sentenced to jail in 2006 for participating in a commemoration marking the murder of an ETA leader by a Spanish death squad in 1978, and being jailed again in 2010 for comparing a long-term ETA prisoner to Nelson Mandela.
“In 2005 Otegi was sentenced for ‘insulting the king’ after he commented at a press conference held on the torture of Basque journalists that the King bore ultimate responsibility for this torture as the official head of the armed forces. In March 2011, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Spain had infringed Otegi’s right to freedom of expression in this case.”
Ms Anderson continued: “But as well as being acknowledged as the leader of the Basque pro-independence movement, Otegi is also indisputably the leader of the Basque peace process, and that is why he was jailed in 2011.
“In October 2009, 10 central leaders of the Basque pro-independence movement including Otegi were arrested as they met to discuss a new peace initiative, and five of them were jailed. Despite such provocation, this peace initiative has led to the permanent ETA ceasefire of 2011 and its move in 2014 to begin the process of disarmament. It has also led to the legal registration of new pro-independence party Sortu in 2013, which has rejected violence and reached unprecedented levels of popular support in the Basque Country.
“I warmly welcome the release of Arnaldo Otegi and offer him our full support in his efforts to develop the Basque peace process. The Spanish government should finally engage with this process. It should release all those who have been jailed for purely political work, and immediately repatriate all Basque prisoners to prisons within the Basque Country as the first step towards an early-release programme.”