Spain/Basque Country: European Democratic Lawyers association criticises trial against prisoner support and human rights organisations

On 19 April 2008 in Amsterdam, the European Democratic Lawyers (EDL) association issued a statement in response to the start of trial 33/01 against the Basque prisoner support and human rights associations Gestoras pro Amnistia and Askatasuna, noting that it will monitor proceedings and report any violation that may take place with regards to the right to a fair trial and the free exercise of the rights of the defence.

The statement recalls that it has expressed concern for past proceedings (including the recent 18/98 trial) initiated by the Audiencia Nacional, the Madrid-based court that has exclusive competencies for trials concerning terrorism, due to its use of an extensive interpretation of the crime of terrorism and the application of emergency laws that entail violations of the right to defence and presumption of innocence.

Specific criticism of the 33/01 proceedings is levelled at the searches in lawyers' offices without guaranteeing the respect of professional secrecy and the confidentiality of lawyer-client communications, the unjustified length of proceedings, the misuse of preventive measures such as imprisonment for up to the legal maximum of four years, and the suspension of the associations' activities. One of the 27 people charged, lawyer Julen Arzuaga, is a representative of Eskubideak in EDL.

The statement calls for the abolition of the Audiencia Nacional, which it considers an "exceptional court", claims that the right to defence is being criminalised in order to limit it and rejects "the arbitrary and inadmissible extension of the concept of terrorism to include public and democratic activities that fall under the right of expression and the right to a free political and social engagement".

Press release [original, in French]
Press release [in English]
Press release [in Spanish]

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