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Adams calls for release of Arnaldo Ortegi

15 July, 2010 - by Pat Sheehan

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has called on the Spanish Government to release Basque Nationalist Leader Arnaldo Otegi. Mr Adams said that Mr Ortegi's continued imprisonment made building a peace process in the Basque country more difficult.

Mr Adams said:

"The continued imprisonment of Basque nationalist leader Arnaldo Otegi is not only undemocratic, but flies in the face of the most basic principles of conflict resolution. Arnaldo was arrested and imprisoned in October 2009 with other members of the Basque independence movement including Rafa Diez former secretary general of the trade union LAB. They were accused of trying to reorganize Batasuna and prepare a new strategy.

Having been in the Basque Country many times and knowing Arnaldo personally I am convinced that his primary political aim is to bring about a democratic and peaceful resolution to the conflict between the Basque Country and France and Spain. He is a widely respected political figure with a clear and significant political mandate.His continued imprisonment makes peace building in the Basque Country more difficult.

Last months developments in the Basque Country have shown that Batasuna is working to develop a clear strategy to break the political deadlock in the Basque conflict. They have made clear their commitment to take the unilateral steps in favour of a democratic peace process. They have also committed themselves to using exclusively political and democratic means in line with the Mitchell Principles. They want to see multiparty talks taking place in a non-violent context. There is now a real chance to develop a credible peace process in the Basque country. Arnaldo Otegi as one of the key leaders of the Basque independence movement has played an important role in all of this. Despite all of this Arnaldo is still in prison.

He is one of a large number of political activists imprisoned for seeking to advance the political agenda of Batasuna. Some have been released on bail, but have had their political rights limited and are not allowed to participate in any political event, private political meetings, marches, or any kind of political activity. This amounts to a policy of criminalisation by the Spanish government as harsh as that practiced by the British Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher in Ireland during the 1980s.

While no two conflicts are the same, and no two peace processes are identical, there are some basic principles that are required for a successful transition from conflict to peace and democracy to be achieved. Central to this is a process of political dialogue between the political leaders of each side to the conflict. Banning, censoring and imprisoning political ideas, political parties and political leaders undermines this. I am convinced of Arnaldo Otegi’s commitment to developing a peace process in his country. His continued imprisonment is an obstacle to the development of such a process. It is also contrary to basic human rights standards. Restrictions on the political rights of other members of Batasuna create additional difficulties. If a peace process is to take root in the Basque country then these restrictions on political parties and activists must be lifted. Crucially Batasuna must be un-banned and Arnaldo Otegi must be released from prison.

Recent statements made by Batasuna indicate their willingness to plan a constructive role in resolving the conflict in their country. The release of Arnaldo and un-banning of Batasuna would demonstrate the willingness of the Spanish government to play its part in bringing one of Europe’s oldest conflicts to an end." ENDS

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