Nahikari Otaegi, a young Basque mother of two children, is getting ready to go to jail. She will be bringing her seven month-old daughter Oihana with her but will have to leave her three year-old son
She has been sentenced to six years of prison for alleged membership of SEGI – the banned Basque pro-independence left youth organisation. According to the Spanish state, to be a member of SEGI is to be helping ETA, the armed Basque resistance group; however no “terrorist” action was proved against either Nahikari or her seven male co-sentenced, no possession of arms, no plans, maps – nothing like that. The evidence against them consisted of T-shirts, CDs and posters which indicated that they are pro-Basque independence and for socialism, in accordance with which they have been doing open political work for years. But according to the Spanish state, as in the infamous words of a previous harrier of pro-independence Basques, the ‘liberal’ judge Garzón: “everything is ETA”.
Nahikari, partner and two children
ETA, on the other hand, has been in ceasefire for over two years now and seeking a resolution process but the response of the French and Spanish states, especially that of the latter, is to keep up the repression. Many more Basques, young and older – 200 according to one estimate – are awaiting trial. Some are on the run too and the Spanish state hunts them down when it can: currently there are Basques awaiting or under threat of extradition in Belfast, London, Rome, Brazil …. One of those who is in exile, in the northern Basque Country (i.e. under French rule), is Nahikari’s partner Aitor Mokoroa. And therein lies an intensification of the tragedy facing this family – he won’t be able to visit her in prison, for that would mean his arrest, his incarceration too – and the three year-old would have to be cared for by grandparents, cut off from both mother and father.
Nahikari was arrested in Donosti/ San Sebastian in December 2007 in an early morning police operation which dragged in another 27 youths. Many of them afterwards alleged that they had been tortured and forced to sign statements during the five days’ incommunicado detention permitted by Spain’s anti-terror laws. Many of the young women also alleged a sexual component to the torture, such as having their breasts and nipples, buttocks and vagina fondled while they were hooded and being threatened with rape. Some of the male youths alleged that they were threatened with having sisters or partners arrested and raped. Among the more physical torture methods were having to maintain stress positions for hours and part-suffocation with a plastic bag. Their parents and siblings mounted a campaign of protest to government and church figures without receiving any satisfaction.
Those who are inclined to disbelieve those claims should read the annual reports of Amnesty International as well as the reports of a number of other human rights agencies, including relevant committees of the UN and of EU.
Subsequently ten were released but eighteen were convicted and sentenced to six years in prison. They served eighteen months in jail, Nahikari doing hers in Soto del Real prison in Madrid and in Brieva jail, in Avila, after which they were released while they appealed their conviction. In 2011 the Spanish Supreme Court ordered the National Court which had convicted to them to review their judgements, which they did a month later: “Apart from a including a few phrases of our lawyers, the judgement and sentences were exactly the same as before, even to including identical grammatical errors,” stated Nahikari. They appealed again and a few weeks ago the sentences on seven were overturned but confirmed on eight, including Nahikari.
Nahikari admits that when she heard the result, she felt crushed and only wanted to stay at home with her children and partner. But as time went on she felt she had to speak out, to affirm her existence and her humanity in the face of the attempts of the state to eradicate both.
A campaign organised by Basque youth quickly grew in Donosti, with press conferences, demonstrations, posters, pickets and videos, photos and text updates on the internet, using email, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. The Basque Government police, the Ertzaintza, body-armoured and masked, raided the encampment and arrested youth, including one of the seven youths whose appeal had been successful. More Basque youth gathered and six of the eight sentenced youth took up residence in an area of the Basque city, surrounded by hundreds of supporters, who took part in a rota to maintain a “human wall” around the sentenced youth.
The Ertzaintza made three attacks on the “human wall” during early hours of mornings. The first two were unsuccessful but in the third, which lasted over three hours, they dragged away sufficient people to clear a path through to six of the youth, which they arrested, along with a couple of others. Nahikari spoke emotionally of the effect of watching that police operation on video and also the solidarity protest demonstration that followed.
In an interview with Ainara Lertxundi, a reporter for the pro-Basque independence left bilingual daily newspaper GARA, Nahikari explained why they had gone ahead and had children, despite the constant threat of Spanish jail. “We wanted to have children while we were still young. They have robbed us of a major part of our youth between arrests, court cases, appeals and jail. Aitor and I decided to go on with our lives and not to allow the state or Spanish judges to control our lives to any greater degree but recognising that it was going to be very difficult. And it is. But why should I put my life on hold while I await their decision?”
As Nahikari went on to point out, she is not the only one in this situation. According to Aske Gunea (“Free Space”) which ran a high-profile practical solidarity and publicity campaign for the eight sentenced youth, there are another 200 Basques awaiting trial or sentencing or results of appeals. There are already 600 men and women who belong to the Basque political prisoners’ collective serving time in French and Spanish jails – out of a total population of less than three million in the whole Basque Country.
Solidarity with the prisoners is very strong in the Basque Country. Each Friday sees the gathering of solidarity pickets of Etxerat, the relatives and friends’ collective in every town or city district. Several times a year, there are huge demonstrations; last January’s, in Bilbao, organised by Etxerat and Herrira, a campaigning organisation, sponsored by the Basque trade unions and many Basque local, cultural and sports associations, jammed the streets with an estimated 115,000 people. “After everything we have to go through, that solidarity is like oxygen”, says Nahikari gratefully. These days her phone doesn’t stop ringing as well-wishers call.
The Spanish and French states have a deliberate policy of dispersing their prisoners across their territory’s jails, laying a heavy burden on the prisoners’ relatives, who have to travel hundreds or thousands of kilometers to the prison and back again. Often they have to book overnight accommodation near the jail, adding to their expenses. Some can’t make the long journeys, being too young or too elderly or too ill. Thousands make the journey but put their lives in danger on the way – visitors have been in two serious traffic accidents already this year.
As Nahikari will be going to one of the Spanish prisons which contain women with children, she has a choice: Valencia or Aranjuez. The first is 570 km away from the Donosti/ San Sebastian in the Basque Country (although a little further from where Ekaitz lives with his father), a journey of about five-and-a-half hours), whilst the second is 495 km away in Madrid, a journey of nearly five hours. And of course the same distance and hours back again.
Aitor and his partner and daugher will not see one another for four-and-a-half years. Ekaitz will be able to see his mother and sister every month or so, for an hour-and-a-half or two, depending on the jail, in the face-to-face family (or “open”) visits. “We discounted the weekly ones with a glass partition (between visitor and prisoner),” she explains, “because it would be very traumatic for Ekaitz to see me through glass but not to be able to touch me …. and for me too.” Once ever three months, prisoners are permitted an open family visit of four hours.
Nahikari is considering what to bring with her. She has investigated the regulations and also talked to a Basque female former prisoner. The mothers are not permitted to bring their own pushchair or even children’s toys but she has been advised to try it as sometimes particular favourite objects of the child have been permitted. “The bottles and soothers (‘dummies’) are allowed but the thermos and bottle heater have to be applied for for security reasons … but I don’t expect to have any problems with all that.”
The reporter writes that Nahikari’s voice sounds strong as she says that … but that she wrings her hands and seems to look away into the distance through the walls of the room ….
Nahikari and daughter — both are going to prison
The GARA article and interview by Ainara Lertxundi: http://gara.naiz.info/paperezkoa/20130424/399307/es/Est…vidas