Thursday, March 11, 2004

Etxerat's Report

This note appeared today at Berria English:

“Dreadful year” for prisoners and relatives

The Etxerat association drew attention yesterday to the fact that curbs on Basque prisoners’ rights and the situation of their relatives were “worsening by the day” and has called on institutions to put aside their “indifference” and undertake effective initiatives

Eider Goenaga – DONOSTIA (San Sebastian)
“A dreadful year”. That is how the Etxerat member Saioa Agirre described 2003. The situation of the prisoners is becoming increasingly worse; their relatives involved in 23 accidents; three killed on the roads; two “fighting for their lives” as a result of a road accident; illegal practices made legal; seriously ill prisoners beaten up; expulsions, etc. The Etxerat association’s assessment of 2003 presented yesterday a list of all these things. Moreover, the fact that there are more prisoners than ever who are more dispersed than ever must be added to all this: there are 700 detainees in 80 prisons.

Agirre went on to stress that the start of this year does not point to any improvement, but rather the opposite. The prison transfers taken place have been to move prisoners further away, other prisoners on parole have been imprisoned, Manu Azkarate released under article 92 (*) has been imprisoned again and moved away to Alcala. Etxerat members went through the infringements of rights that took place last year, category by category.

Death penalty: Relatives going to visit Basque prisoners last year suffered 23 road accidents and 100 people were involved in these accidents.

Financial drain: Agirre denounced the fact that “Basque prisoners’ friends and relatives are suffering a tremendous financial drain to be able to exercise the right of communication enshrined in Spanish and French legislation”. Indeed each family is spending an average of 1,350.65 euros a month on travel.

Transferring people far away: Last year there were 438 transfers; 200 of them involved a change in destination. Over 70% of the changes in destination were to take Basque prisoners further away from the Basque Country. “The prisons of Galicia, Andalusia and Paris are full of Basques,” said Agirre.

Only 15 prisoners in the Basque Country: The Spanish Government has decided to take Basque political prisoners out of the Basque Country prisons and Etxerat converted this into figures. Today there are six political prisoners in Langraitz (Araba); seven in Martutene (Gipuzkoa), two in Iruñea (Pamplona); not a single one in Basauri (Bizkaia).

Solitary confinement blocks: Etxerat has accused the Spanish and French government of “intensifying the prisoners’ lack of protection”; “they want them to feel alone in the blocks they have built to destroy people physically and mentally. They have turned punishment cells into “normal blocks” for Basque prisoners, says Etxerat.

In ‘mitard’ and alone: Basque prisoners are also kept in solitary confinement in French prisons, and not just in punishment cells (‘mitard’) but in many prisons there is only one Basque prisoner. An extreme case is that of Txuma Puy from Lekunberri (Navarre). He was taken to Strasbourg last year; to visit him people have to travel over 1,300 km and he is the only Basque prisoner there.

(*) This article in the Criminal Code makes provision for release on parole of prisoners who are seriously ill or who have incurable illnesses.

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