As a consequence of the long conflict, 463 Basque Citizens are held in Spanish and French prisons. During the Confrontation period, this collective suffered a number of exceptional measures, including automatic rejections of parole, dispersion, difficulties to get medical treatment and legal assistance. They have also been subjected to communication limitations and have been isolated. Prisoners’ Lawyers have also been targeted by this exceptional measures.

1. Dispersion Policy

Dispersion consists of sending the prisoners away from their places of origin to prisons far away. It is an exceptional measure applied to Basque prisoners related to the Basque National Liberation Movement (even if they have not been condemned for terrorist offences). Those prisoners organise themselves on the EPPK, the Collective of Basque Political Prisoners.

The Dispersion policy was introduced in 1989 and has as objective the isolation and distancing of Basque prisoners from their places of origin and from their affective, social, cultural and political environment. Furthermore, many prisoners suffer isolation and separation from their comrades, even when held in the same prison.

According to the monthly report of the Prisoners’ relatives Association Etxerat (December 2014) 463 Political Prisoners are held in 76 prisons.

  • 6 prisoners in 3 prisons in the Basque Country
  • 351 in 44 Spanish Prisons
  • 97 in 28 French Prisons
  • 1 in England
  • 1 in Portugal
  • 1 in Germany
  • 6 are under home arrest or light prison for the illnesses they suffer.

395 are held further than 500 km from the Basque Country, while only 69 are closer than 400 km, as a result: In 2013 19 relatives were involved in 8 accidents, in 2014 there were 9 accidents. Since 1988 16 relatives have died going to or coming from a visit.

Each family has to travel an average 63.599,47 km a year (overall 47.572.408 km)

Each family spend an average 19.653,00 € a year (overall 10.357.131 € a year)

The Dispersion Policy doesn’t only affect prisoners, but also their families and relatives. States should accord a special protection to the family, considered as “the natural and fundamental group unit of society” (art. 10.1 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – ICESCR). Amnesty International in its June 2012 report, “An Agenda for Human Rights in the Basque Country”, asked for the repatriation of prisoners and noted the right of every prisoner to be incarcerated, when possible, at a reasonable distance from his/her place of residence, as recognised on Principle 20 of UN’s “Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment”.

The Dispersion Policy could also be understood as a breach of Article 8 of The European Convention on Human Rights, as established by the the ECHR in KHODORKOVSKIY AND LEBEDEV v. RUSSIA JUDGMENT, that literally states that: “placing a convict in a particular prison may potentially raise an issue under Article 8 if its effects for the applicant’s private and family life go beyond “normal” hardships and restrictions inherent to the very concept of imprisonment.”

The Recommendation Rec(2006)2 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the European Prison Rules clearly stated on its principles 17.1, 17.2 and 17.3 regarding Allocation and accommodation that “Prisoners shall be allocated, as far as possible, to prisons close to their homes or places of social rehabilitation.”

Therefore the Dispersion policy, its extraordinary application and its practical consequences are in breach with Spanish Legislation and International Covenants. This facts were strongly denounced by the UN Special Rapporteur on the question of torture, Theo van Boven, on a 2004 report after a visit to Spain and again by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin on his 2008 visit to Spain report.
Basque Parliament requested the end of the dispersion policy in February 2013 and Amnesty International has asked the Spanish Government on its HR priorities for Spain 2014-2015 to allow prisoners to serve their sentences close to their places of origin.
The EPPK (Collective of Prisoners) announced on an interview (Gara 15/02/2014) that its members in Spanish prisons were going to present requests to the relevant prison institutions to be transferred to the prison of Zaballa in the Basque Country (started operating in 2011, counts 720 cells with capacity for over 1000 inmates).

2. Seriously ill prisoners

All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with respect for the dignity of the human person. (art. 10 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – ICCPR) and allow them to have the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (art. 12 ICESCR).

10 members of the EPPK suffer serious and incurable illnesses for which they must be released without delay in order to be treated in an adequate manner and so that their situation doesn’t get worse. They suffer serious psychological illnesses, heart problems, have cancer and other serious illnesses.

Long years spent in difficult incarceration conditions and the constant pressure generate multiple physical and/or psychological problems for the incarcerated individuals. Furthermore,medical control in prison is usually reduced to the minimum and is even more difficult due to the various security conditions imposed on Basque prisoners.

Therefore a simple diagnosis becomes a true obstacle course: months waiting for an appointment – often suspended on the last minute -, being moved to hospital under spectacular escorts, repeating incidents, longer medical examination or hospitalizations under prison or police officers’ permanent surveillance.

Prisons deny in most cases permission for the visits of prisoners’ own choice doctors, which is, nevertheless, accorded in Spain. It is very unlikely or even impossible to recover a prisoners’ medical record. Moreover, medical secrecy doesn’t exist in prison.

This situation, is in whole, against the right to health and is at the same time consequence of a political willingness to inflict upon Basque political prisoners sufferings that go beyond the “unavoidable” sufferings of imprisonment, Article 92.2 of The Spanish Penal Code allows the early release of inmates suffering serious and incurable illnesses and elderly inmates (over 70 years).

In March 2013 two ill prisoners died while in custody of the authorities. One of them was under home arrest, the other died in a French hospital from alleged complications after a surgery.

In January 2014 a 34 year old prisoner died in prison (1000km away from his home-town) due to a organic collapse. Basque society denounced those deceases as result of the prison policy and the lack of adequate medical treatment. Basque Parliament made a clear call for the non-restrictive application of Article 104.4 of the Prison Regulation for Basque prisoners with serious and incurable illnesses. On a Non-biding Law approved in March 2014.

The prisoners diagnosed with serious illnesses are:

Prisoner (Place of residence, Born) – Arrest Diagnose
«Txus» MARTIN HERNANDO (Basauri, 1960) Arrested in 2002. Dysthymic schizophrenia with delirium episodes.
Josetxo ARIZKUREN RUIZ (Iruñea, 1958) Arrested in 1999. Acute Ischaemic heart disease Cardiac catheterization (implantation of 1 stent)
Inmaculada BERRIOZABAL BERNAS (Zegama/Elorrio, 1951) Arrested in 2009. Diabetes mellitus type 2. Diabetic Foot. Arterial Hypertension. Psoriatic arthritis. Moderate Bronchial Asthma. Knee Phrotesis.
Gari ARRUARTE SANTA CRUZ (Hernani, 1980) Arrested in 2003. Ankylosing spondylitis. Arthralgia ol lower limbs.
Iñaki ETXEBERRIA MARTIN (Iruñea, 1964) Arrested in 1996. Great Degenerative myopia. Retinal hemorrhage on the right eye. Aphakia on the left eye. Bilateral Glaucoma.
Aitzol GOGORZA OTAEGI (Orereta, 1975) Arrested in 1999. Obsessive–compulsive disorder.
Jose Miguel ETXEANDIA MEABE (Larrabetzu, 1960) Arrested in 2003. Obsessive–compulsive disorder. , Hepatitis C.
Jose Ramon LOPEZ DE ABETXUKO (Gasteiz, 1949) Arrested in 1989. Symptomatic bradycardia. Secondary diagnosis: prostate adenoma. Cervicoarthrosis: cervicalgy. Coxalgy.
Ibon Fernández Iradi (Lasarte, 1972) Arrested in 2003. Multiple sclerosis.
Ibon IPARRAGIRRE BURGOA (Ondarroa, 1973) Arrested in 2010. AIDS, Stage C, progressive multifocal leukencephalopathy, Cognitive Deterioration and spongiform encephalopathies


3. Conclusion

Despite the calls of Basque society the Spanish and French states haven’t made the slightest positive change in their prison policies towards Basque Political prisoners. Only the ECHR’s ruling about the High Court Decision 197/2006 has been able to make the Spanish Judiciary change their stand on some cases. The ongoing efforts for the resolution of the conflict have been supported by international agents and Basque society and different agents have highlighted the situation of the prisoners as one of the main outstanding issues to be addressed.

The end of the 197/2006 Doctrine, after the ECHR Grand Chamber ruling, can only be understood as a victory for Human Rights.

The Spanish and French Governments should change their policies, not only as a tension reduction measure regarding the resolution process, but out of real Human Rights concerns. The dispersion policy and the refuse to release ill prisoners are against the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – ICESCR and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – ICCPR, as well as against UN’s “Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment”.

The issue of prisoners has been central in several peace processes. On the Irish case, the Good Friday agreement included the issue of prisoners, and the process for their early release has been highlighted as one of the crucial elements on the whole process. The role of former prisoners on the aftermath of the agreement has been recognised by the EU Commission through the PEACE program. On the South African case the release of prisoners was used by the Apartheid Government as a measure of confidence building that allowed the the negotiations to move forward.
The respect of all Human Rights, in every situation should be the base for any democratic Government. The negative to transfer Basque prisoners to the Basque Country, before the dissolution of ETA, 3 years after the definitive cessation of its armed activity (October 2011) and once it has started to unilaterally put its weaponry beyond use, cannot be understood.

The conditioned released of ill prisoners and the transfer to the Basque prisons of the rest could be enacted applying the regular Spanish and French legality and would be a very important step for the resolution process.