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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Iñaki de Juana Chaos


Anthony McIntyre • 3 March 2007

Regardless of what charges people may stand accused of, it is instinctive for many former republican prisoners to immediately sympathise with them when they are on hunger strike. Reason, if it kicks in at all, comes long after the event. Experience has left us carrying an attitude that runs so deep it could almost be mistaken as congenital; as a rule the prisoners are to be backed against the guards.

This was the position I readily adopted yesterday on being asked to take part in a BBC World Service discussion around the topic of the ETA prisoner, Iñaki de Juana Chaos. He had been on a prolonged hunger strike in a Spanish prison but as his condition grew critical he was transferred from the Spanish capital Madrid to a hospital in the Basque city of Donostia. There was little to think about in advance. Not always a recommended course of action, I nevertheless committed myself to defending him without actually exploring the issues. There seemed no need to. A political prisoner on hunger strike constituted understanding enough.

My reflections on the matter came as I sat alongside my father-in-law in a BBC studio in Belfast waiting to be interviewed. Ironically, the World Service discussion on de Juana was preceded by a much longer debate around the issue of obesity in children. Gluttony and starvation were the contrasting themes that weaved their way through the evening's exchanges. On the one hand the case was being made that parents who allow their kids to gorge on food should be imprisoned for child abuse; on the other the argument took the form that a man should be released from the confines of imprisonment because he was starving himself to death.

Iñaki de Juana Chaos is an ETA member. Said to have killed over 800 people in forty years of its armed struggle, the Basque guerrilla group has provoked a fury within the Spanish populace to a degree not induced by the IRA from the British despite the atrocities the organisation at times inflicted on an English civilian population. With protestors taking to the streets - as high as 2.5 million depending on who is guesstimating - in opposition to the government dealing with ETA, the angry spirit of 'crispacion' has Spaniards in its grip. Commenting on the tension surrounding the marches Basque Socialist leader, Patxi Lopez, compared it to the weeks immediately preceding the 1981 coup attempt when civil guards stormed the country's parliament. For many Spaniards the ETA issue has become a symbol of everything they perceive as wrong in Spanish society and it raises few eyebrows that one of the demands of the protestors was that de Juana be returned to jail from the house arrest concession he was promised as a result of his hunger strike.

The 51 year old was jailed 1987 for 3,000 years for his part in 25 deaths, most of them military personnel. Under Spanish law he would serve a maximum of 18 years. The Spanish Government in a bid to block de Juana's pending release dug out two opinion pieces he had written for a Basque newspaper. In these the government claimed there was enough material to prosecute him for making threats of terrorism. In a clear bid to undermine the autonomy of the Spanish judicial system Justice Minister Juan Fernando López Aguilar undertook to introduce new legislation to prevent the release of ETA prisoners, promising to do "whatever is in our power to prevent these releases." Which meant against ETA prisoners the government would "construct new charges like we did with de Juana Chaos".

For de Juana this political subversion of the judicial system led to a sentence of
12 years and 7 months in jail. The Association of European Democratic Lawyers said that the sentence was "an exceptional resolution of extraordinary harshness". While the Spanish Supreme Court cut this sentence to 3 years - in opposition to the relatives of ETA's victims who sought it to have it increased to 96 years - de Juana already on hunger strike vowed to continue with his fast. "The only acceptable alternative is complete liberty and an end to the brutal attacks on freedom of expression that this legal process implies."

When de Juana promotes free speech, this causes a jaundiced eye to be cast towards the activities of the group to which he belonged. In its day ETA blatantly disregarded the opinions of others and instigated 'brutal attacks on freedom of expression' when it murdered one of its own leading lights, María Dolores Katarain, aka Yoyes, for dissenting from armed struggle, and also assassinated José Luis López de Lacalle, a Spanish journalist critical of the group.

Nevertheless, although a ruse devised solely for the purpose of extending his detention, the prison sentence that led to the de Juana hunger strike was formally imposed for writing articles in a newspaper and on no other legal grounds. In an effort to subvert deeper public understanding of the broader issues, Spanish conservatives responded with rage to an interview conducted with him for the Times in London.

Typically, double standards abound on the Spanish right. Never able to reconcile itself to the loss of Franco and the collapse of fascism its attitude to those who sought to re-impose military rule is much more emollient. The civil guard officer who led the coup in 1981, Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero Molina, has long been released from custody and pens letters to the Spanish press on political issues that get under his skin. No sign yet of mass protests being organised demanding that this bane of democracy be returned to prison.

Iñaki de Juana Chaos has since ended his hunger strike and is undergoing hospital treatment. He will continue to be held under house arrest in Basque country. While much more conciliatory than jailing him for a further 12 years, it remains both an injustice and a defence of political censorship. He should be released and allowed to write as he pleases without the threat of imprisonment hanging over his head. Any decision to continue holding him is based on the opinions he expressed and not the armed activities he engaged in.



















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18 March 2007

Other Articles From This Issue:

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The Protestant 'Pat Finucane'
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Green Party Declines White House Invitation
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Citizen Tom
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A History of Nationalism in Ireland
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Review of Challenging the New Orientalism
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NIFC Free Form Video Discusses Elections, Abstentionism
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Iñaki de Juana Chaos
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