Thousands of people protested in Bilbao, Spain to demand better conditions for Basque political prisoners just weeks ahead of ETA's official dissolution.
Under the slogan "Prisoners to the Streets, Now is the Time" (“bada garaia presoak kalera,” in the Euskera language), protesters met at 5:45 p.m. local time Saturday, carrying flags of the Basque country, asking the government to transfer the prisoners closer to their place of origin so their families could visit them.
Prisoners belonging to ETA, which stands for “Euskadi Ta Askatasuna” meaning Basque Country and Freedom, are subject to the “first degree” (or closed regime) prisoners category, the most restrictive one, reserved for the most dangerous prisoners with political intentions. Prisoners under this category are allowed to walk outside their cells only three to four hours a day.
Former prisoners such as Felipe San Epifanio, Arantza Zulueta, Urtza Alkorta, Pablo Gorostiaga and Antton Lopez Ruiz “Kubati” also attended the march. Lopez Ruiz, spokesman for the “Kalera Kalera” group, said the march expressed “love, solidarity and affection for the Basque political prisoners... their struggle is political and they are political prisoners, and the decision the prisoners collective took a year ago to begin with the ordinary legal way was also political.”
Representatives of Basque nationalist political parties were also there, including Arkatiz Rodriguez, Sortu's secretary general, Garbiñe Aranburu, LAB's (Commission of Patriotic Workers) secretary general and Maddalen Iriate, Julen Arzuaga and Jasone Agirre, from EH Bildu.
“We want this suffering to end and to start walking together the road of peace, coexistence and reconciliation, the prisoners collective and the abertzale [patriotic] left are willing to do it and we hope that all other political and social agents are going in the same direction. We hope we can do it together.” said Kubati.
A man lays down a Basque flag at the end of a rally in support of ETA prisoners in Bilbao, Spain, April 21, 2018.
He also demanded that the government, led by the right wing Popular Party (PP), eliminate the “first degree” category as the first step for taking that road, recognizing the efforts of the prisoners' collective.
“The first degree is a permanent punishment. It must be eliminated and the prisoners' collective must be given the opportunity to abide to ordinary legislation,” he said. About 90 percent of the collective's 300 political prisoners accepted the proposal. Of them, about 250 are imprisoned in Spain and 50 in France.
“The State and the government must be aware that the abertzale left will never leave the political prisoners alone. They will also have our love, our respect and our acknowledgement. Yes, we love them!,” he said.
In an open letter, ETA recently announced they will officially dissolve in May and apologized to those affected by their armed conflict. “We want to show respect to the death, the wounded and the victims of ETA's actions, as far as they've been affected by the conflict,” the letter reads.
Kubati said ETA's declaration represented a “great contribution” to the peace and coexistence process, and asked for more “spaces so the conflict consequences are left behind and we all understand what the people had suffered.”
Since ETA refrained from violent activities in 2011, the Spanish state has issued 121 sentences between then and 2018 over expressing support for the ETA or the group’s prisoners, four times more than the previous seven years.