An end to the policy of dispersal of ETA prisoners. The Spanish interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, has authorized the transfer to prisons in Euskadi or Navarra of the last five convicted members of the Basque terrorist group who up till now have been serving their sentences in other penitentiary centers around the Spanish state. The associations in defence of prisoners' rights, Etxerat and Sare, have celebrated the decision that brings to an end the policy of dispersion after more than 34 years. On the other hand, the Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT) has accused the Spanish government of "siding with the terrorists and not with the victims."
Among the last group of prisoners who have been transferred back to the Basque Country is Irantzu Gallastegi Sodupe, alias 'Amaia', partner of Francisco Javier García Gaztelu, 'Txapote', one of the ex-leaders of ETA who was responsible for the most crimes. Both are serving sentences for the murder of PP town councillor Miguel Ángel Blanco, among other attacks. Gallestegi is currently in Estremera prison (Madrid). The other four prisoners who will be brought to Euskadi include Asier Borrero Toribio, who is in El Dueso (Cantabria); Faustino Marcos Álvarez, who is serving a sentence in Daroca (Zaragoza); and Garikoitz Etxeberria Goikoetxea and Gregorio Escudero Balerdi, who will be transferred from Dueñas (Palencia).
End of the dispersion of ETA prisoners after 34 years
With this move, the Spanish interior minister completes the transfer of all ETA prisoners to the Basque Country and Navarra, a process that began in 2018, with the arrival of Pedro Sánchez as PM and the appointment of Marlaska as head of interior, who pledged to comply with the prison legislation, which the Spanish state had never done, once ETA had been "defeated". After these five prisoners, the only prisoner of the 176 ETA members imprisoned in Spain who has not been transferred is Natividad Jáuregui, 'Pepona' or 'Jaione', the reason being that after her extradition from Belgium she still has a case pending and is serving preventive detention in Alcalá de Henares prison (Madrid).
With these five transfers, the AVT calculates that there are 164 inmates now in one of the three Basque prisons, while 11 more are currently interned in prison centres in Navarra. The AVT used an illustration of a skeleton to announce that the dispersal policy "rests in peace", having died on March 24th, 2023, and it affirmed that "now the campaign for them to go free" begins. According to data from this association, since September 2018, 382 transfers have been carried out in relation to 204 prisoners, of whom 183 had committed blood crimes.
Arnaldo Otegi: "Our joy must be contained"
The leader of the Basque pro-independence party Euskal Herria Bildu (EH Bildu), Arnaldo Otegi, welcomed the decision of the Spanish government and explained that "a cycle of prison politics has been closed", but he criticized that this dispersion strategy should never have been set in motion or extended so long in time, and that after 35 years, its only achievement has been "the cruel prolongation of suffering". For this reason, he stated that "the joy must be contained because we cannot forget so much pain and suffering".
In a press conference, Otegi recalled that the dispersion was the result of political decisions that all governments maintained over time "with full awareness that they violated human rights." In this regard, he warned that the final outcome "should not scandalize anyone" because it merely complies with the prison law. However, he considers it an act of respect towards "the trade union, political and popular majority" that has demanded an end to the dispersion policy over the decades. The EH Bildu leader concluded his address stating that they will continue to work to weave consensus and build bridges instead of trenches. "Our people deserve a future of recognition and of reparation for all victims."
Below, Arnold Ortegi's statement, in its original languages: Euskera, from the start; and Spanish from 6m10s.