The General Secretary (GS) of the League has written to the Spanish Ambassador to the UK to express his concerns following the arrest of ten people in the Basque Country on 17th January 2011, which included a personal friend of his. In the letter the GS said:
“As you will agree, the brutal treatment of detainees is totally and utterly unacceptable and should not be tolerated by an EU member state. Unfortunately though, this does seem to be a fact of life for many people in the Basque Country who have found themselves in police detention, as can be seen for instance by the conviction at the end of last year of several Spanish police officers for the torture of ETA suspects detained after the Madrid Airport bombings in 2008.”
The full text of the letter can be found below.
Embassy of Spain
39 Chesham Place
London SW1X 8SB
Dear Spanish Ambassador Carles Casajuana
Breach of rights and allegations of torture
I am writing to express our concerns about the breach of rights following the arrest of a group of ten people from Irunia/Pamplona on 17th January 2011 and allegations of torture and the brutal treatment of those who were in police detention.
Among those arrested was a good friend of mine, Edurne Sanzo Mardaras. I received a report about the arrest the day after they occurred with a detailed account of what happened in the case of Edurne. The report stated:
“… they turned the flat inside out, looking for goodness knows what. They took my hard drive, my iPod, the hard drive from my work laptop and a couple of USB pendrives. They took Edurne’s cameras, mine, her phone, my diary; they ripped up boxes and envelopes… I still don’t know what else is missing, because of the state in which they left the flat.
I spent the three hours the search took under custody of two large Special Operations uniformed, armed, policemen, while the masked men (and one woman) went about their business, sharing the odd joke. I repeatedly demanded my
constitutional right to witness the search.
– “Request denied, the court secretary is here” [they answered]
– “Which one of you is he? May I talk to him?” [I asked]
– “No!” [they answered]
I stated that they were going through stuff of mine, that I had a right to see
what was going on.
– “No” [they answered]”
The police raid had occurred at 0250 in the morning, when Edurne was asleep and, as you may be able to imagine, it was a frightening experience for everyone concerned. Edurne was told she was under incommunicado arrest, for “integration in an armed group” and, as you can see from the above statement, her democratic rights were already being denied. I lived in Irunia/Pamplona for a couple of years and I have firsthand experience of how rude, thuggish and brutal the police can be to members of the public. I therefore have no doubt that when Edurne was taken away by the police her family members were scared of what would happen to her while in detention. As we know from people like Martin Scheinin, the UN’s Special Rapporteur’s report on Spain and the various reports from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), that the Spanish authorities have and continue to break international laws with their treatment of prisoners and those in detention.
Luckily for Edurne she did not suffer the severe torture that some of the other detainees who were arrested along with her on the 17th January attested to, including beatings and suffocation. Nevertheless, in an incomprehensible four
and a half hour trip to Madrid in the back of a police van after her arrest, Edurne was “forced down, bent over, with her head between her knees, handcuffed at the back and blindfolded for almost all the drive” and resulted in a panic
attack on her arrival at her destination. What no doubt also contributed to the panic attack and to a subsequent attack the following day, was the psychological torture she was subjected to while in the van with the police guards, which
involved the police:
• threatening her with being handed her over to the Guardia Civil
• arresting her family members
• threatening her with suffocation with a plastic bag (they rustled it
so she could hear)
• playing mind games like saying “there go the others, they’re really laying into that one” (meaning one of the other detainees in another car) and “look at that ditch there, we could just dig a hole and bury her and no-one
would ever find her.”
Rather than being in the charge of hired thugs on her trip to Madrid, Edurne was in the custody of people who are paid by the state to uphold the law and protect the rights of all citizens, which according to the allegations above, they were
obviously most definitely not doing. Luckily for Edurne, on her arrival to Madrid, she was treated in a more reasonable manner and later released on bail. However, six of the detainees, out of the ten arrested, reported that they had been subjected to physical/psychological torture while in police custody, including in Madrid.
As you will agree, the brutal treatment of detainees is totally and utterly unacceptable and should not be tolerated by an EU member state. Unfortunately though, this does seem to be a fact of life for many people in the Basque Country who have found themselves in police detention, as can be seen for instance by the conviction at the end of last year of several Spanish police officers for the torture of ETA suspects detained after the Madrid Airport bombings in 2008.
I hope you can understand our concerns over this issue and would like you to pass them on to the suitable person/department for their consideration. I have copied the CPT into this letter for their information/records.
CC Council of Europe: Secretariat of the CPT (European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment)
This article prepared for Celtic News by Rhisiart Tal-e-bot General Secretary Celtic League. For follow-up comment or clarification contact:
Tel: 0044 (0)1209315884
Director of Information note:
The Spanish government has refused to agree to publication of the report on the most recent inspection by the CPT of conditions of detention in Spain’s prisons and police stations (see link below):
J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information