Thursday, September 18, 2008

21 Basques Behind Bars for Peaceful Lobbying

Sources: Financial Times- Spain Jails 21 ETA Prison Activists; Financial Times-Timeline: A History of ETA; New York Times- Basque Separatist, Free from Spanish Prison, Backs Talks

On Wednesday, the Spanish government engaged in yet another clash with the Basque community. It jailed 21 Basques for lobbying against the imprisonment of hundreds of fellow separatists deemed terrorist members of the guerilla group ETA. Sentences ranged from 8-10 years.

The Basque people occupy the north-central region of Spain and southwestern France and have long maintained a culture and language distinct from the rest of Spain. The organization ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or “Basque Homeland and Freedom") was founded in 1959 by a group of radical leftist students advocating independence from Spain and the creation of an autonomous state following brutal repression of the culture during the reign of Francisco Franco. In 1978, the Basque region was established as an “autonomous community” in the Spanish constitution, but was still restricted from the right to self-determination and independence. The past 50 years have been characterized by cycles of violence (the ETA has been responsible for the deaths of over 800 people since the 1960s) and peace talks between ETA and the Spanish government. The EU, including the governments of both Spain and France, and the United States classify the group as a terrorist organization.

However, more than forty years after the death of Franco, freedom of speech and political parties in Spain are still restricted. One can be charged, convicted, and jailed for the verbal offense of “defending terrorism”, as was Arnaldo Otegi, the former leader of the ETA who served a 15 month sentence in 2006 after a speech he gave at the 25th anniversary of a former Basque leader’s death. Other terrorism-related charges include participating in illegal political meetings and marches. The High Court of Spain has also banned the political participation of the Batasuna and ANV parties, believed to be political wings of the ETA.

1. While terrorism and violence should never be tolerated, has the Spanish government gone too far in jailing ETA members for non-violent lobbying? If not, would your answer be different if the protestors were Basques not affiliated with the ETA?
2. Should political parties that are affiliated with terrorist organizations be allowed to function in a democratic state?
3. How does political repression affect the development of a country?

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