Tens of thousands of people congregated on the streets of Donostia (San Sebastian) last Saturday, October 20th to demand effective steps be taken in the issue of Basque political prisoners.

OrainPresoak_Urr20_DonostiaHANDIAThe march was called by the Orain Presoak (Now, the Prisoners) initiative and the newspaper Gara reported its usual counting system resulted in a number of about 37.000 marchers, making it one of the largest demonstrations to take to the streets of the city in recent years.

The priorities set out by spokespeople and marchers are the end of the policy of prisoner dispersal, compassionate release of seriously ill prisoners, a non-discriminatory application of the prisoner classification system and an end to double-sentencing (see below).

This was also the most plural and representative march in recent times. Representatives of Basque parties EH Bildu, EH Bai, PNV and Elkarrekin Podemos as well as the Catalan CUP, attended the march as well as the entire trades unions spectrum, reresented by ELA, LAB, CCOO, UGT, ESK, Steilas, EHNE, Hiru and Etxalde. In addition, representatives of civil society peace-building forums Bake Bidea and the Social Forum also attended.

Mixel Berhokoirigoin, one of the civil society actors key to ETA disarming in April 2017 took to the stage at the end of the march and spoke of the large march in Paris one year ago “We went to Paris to say that the rest of the road to peace cannot be unilateral” and remembered there was a change in policy by the French state “but there is still much to be done (…) Paris and Madrid must listen”.

Spokeswomen for the “Now the Prisoners” initiative Arantza Aldezabal and Laura Gómez, said a new time has arrived which “opens the doors to a real peace.”

The march took place almost 7 years after ETA declared a definitive ceasefire, 18 months after it disarmed and over five months after ETA ceased to exist.

Some data on the main issues highlighted by the march.

Dispersal and distancing policy:

There are currently 267 Basque Political prisoners of whom 212 are only 4 in prisons in the Basque Country, of the 212 held in prisons in Spain:

  •   142 (67%) are held in prisons between 600 and 1100 Km distance from the Basque Country
  •   53 (25%) are held in prisons between 590 and 400 Km distance from the Basque Country
  •   17 (8%) are held in prisons between 390 and 100 Km distance from the Basque Country

Of the 47 held in prisons in France:

  • 17 (36%) are held in prisons between 750 and 1100 Km distance from the Basque Country
  • 7 (15%) are held in prisons between 550 and 400 Km distance from the Basque Country
  • 23 (49%) are held in the two prisons nearest to the Basque Country

Seriously ill prisoners:
There are 13 prisoners who are publicly known to have serious incurable diseases (such as physical degenerative illnesses, searious heart conditions or mental illnesses). However there is a larger number who have requested information relative to their health be kept confidential for the time being.

Prisoner classification:
Regarding the prisoner classification system, 95% of Basque prisoners are currentlty classified as “First Degree”, the highest security classification, which prevents their access to penitentiary benefits, and keeps them in harsh living conditions (e.g. 2-4 hours a day out of their cell). Basque prisoners are systematically classified as “First Degree” and kept in that category for years, despite it theoretically being an exceptional and temporary measure. In addition, 27 prisoners are being permanently held in isolation blocks.
It recently transpired that prisoners’ requests to be reclassified as “Second Degree” are being systematically refused.

Double Sentencing:
The Spanish state introduced a provision in its transposition of EU legislation in order to make Basque prisoners who have already served time for membership of ETA in France serve time for the same crime in Spanish jails. This is subject to an ongoing judicial process at the European court level.