Spain-Euskadi: Iñaki de Juana Chaos hunger strike raises the political temperature

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Iñaki de Juana Chaos hunger strike raises the political temperature

On the margins of the Basque peace process, with the government engaged in a difficult balancing act to keep negotiations alive without being perceived to be making political concessions to ETA, the case of hunger striker Iñaki de Juana Chaos became the focus of heated controversy.

De Juana had been in prison since 1987 serving prison sentences amounting cumulatively to over 2,500 years for the murders of 25 members of the army and Guardia Civil by the comando Madrid which he headed with car bombs, assassinations and machine-gun attacks. In accordance with sentencing guidelines, he became eligible for release after 18 years, on 25 October 2004, due to the application of "redemptions" (tariff reductions for activities carried out in prison) to the 30-year maximum that could be served (raised to 40 years for specified terrorist convictions by Organic Law 7/2003). On 22 October 2004, a magistrate from the Audiencia Nacional, the Madrid-based court that has exclusive competence for terrorist cases, filed an appeal against some of the redemptions applied to De Juana Chaos, postponing his release. In an effort to prevent the outcry that the release was set to cause, two defiant opinion articles that he wrote shortly afterwards for the Basque newspaper Gara in December 2004 were deemed to contain threats against a number of named prison officials who he criticised for corruption and ill-treatment of prisoners. On 11 January 2005 he was charged on two new counts, of ETA membership and of issuing terrorist threats, on the basis of the articles, by judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska, thus preventing De Juana's release by decreeing pre-emptive custody in relation to the new charges.

The articles

The first article was critical of the onslaught against the Movimiento Vasco de Liberación Nacional (MVLN, Basque National Liberation Movement) by the media, judicial authorities, police, prison officers and government. He listed a series of practices to demoralise the movement, such as selective leaks of internal discussions, prisoner dispersal and ill-treatment, arrests and raids, before stating "Go to hell with all of the above because you won't win", and describes the failure to release him as an expression of "its servants' contempt for their own laws", addressing some of the arguments used to justify it.

The second article accused politicians of failing to address of ill-treatment in prisons and criticised the substance of the shake-up of directors of prisons by the Zapatero government (variously described as "fascist" and "totalitarian") ordered by the head of the prison service, Mercedes Gallizo, claiming that officials notorious among prisoners for abuses were promoted. He said that any hopes of it being a prelude for more significant changes ended when the names of the new directors were made public, singling out four of them for incidents including violence against prisoners, provoking disturbances, sessions of torture, noting that someone who could have been replaced for the complaints and irregularities he amassed, or for stealing, was replaced for his party membership with the change of government.

Judicial developments

In June, judge Santiago Pedraz shelved the case, arguing that the prisoner had expressed support for the MVLN rather than ETA, and that the wider movement is not considered a terrorist organisation, deeming that the issuing of threats had not been proven. Justice minister Juan Fernando López Aguilar responded by stating, in reference to De Juana Chaos and other prisoners in similar situations, that "they must not be released prematurely under any concept" and an appeal, in the midst of a media campaign against the decision, saw the third section of the penal branch of the Audiencia Nacional correcting the ruling by decreeing that De Juana Chaos be tried, as he had "boasted about and exalted" his membership of ETA in the articles which could thus be construed as "clearly revealing a terrorist threat".

On 6 November 2006, the Audiencia Nacional sentenced him to 12 years and 6 months in prison for terrorist threats. Commenting the sentence in El País newspaper, criminal law professor Nicolás García Rivas noted that the case against De Juana was "circumstantial", and described the sentence as "unacceptable", because the basis for the establishment of the threat was the nature of the person (an ETA member convicted for dozens of murders) rather than his actions, in the absence of direct threats other than a generic call for the Spanish establishment to take their "dirty hands out of Euskal Herria" or find out that they may lose them. He claims that the prisoners' allegations could have been construed as slander if any of the cited parties had chosen to file a lawsuit, and that his rhetoric, at most, could have been interpreted as an "exaltation or justification of terrorism", but not as threats. The sentence was lowered to three years by the Tribunal Supremo on 12 February 2007, sparking protests by the PP and the Asociación de Victimas del Terrorismo (AVT, association of victims of terrorism), which has been its most prominent ally in opposing the peace process. In fact, the new sentence meant that De Juana could serve his sentence under a relaxed prison regime, as over half the sentence had already been served in pre-emptive custody. On 28 February the prison service applied a regime of house arrest under police surveillance to De Juana, leading him to abandon the protest on 1 March after his transfer to San Sebastián.

The hunger strike

De Juana Chaos began an indefinite hunger strike in Algeciras prison on 8 August 2006, demanding his unconditional release. He was hospitalised on 19 September and was force-fed with a drip by hospital staff, as well as having his arms and legs tied to the bed for 24 hours, until he accepted not to obstruct doctors' work. De Juana Chaos suspended the hunger strike on 8 October, resuming it the day after he was sentenced in Madrid a month later, and was hospitalised on 25 November and started being force-fed again on 12 December. On 5 February 2006, as he approached 100 days on hunger strike, an interview with the prisoner that was smuggled out of the hospital was published in the Times, alongside a photograph of his emaciated body strapped to a hospital bed, in which the prisoner was unrepentant in relation to his crimes, criticised his treatment, demanded unconditional freedom and expressed his support for the "process of dialogue and negotiation". The interview drew an angry response from Spanish politicians and media, which accused the British newspaper of giving publicity to a terrorist.


The reactions that accompanied the course of the case have been heated, in keeping with the general tone of Spanish politics since the Zapatero government came to power. The PP has been involved in months of constant mobilisation including large demonstrations against the peace process by the right, levelling accusations at the government that included "treason" and describing the peace process itself as a "surrender" to the terrorists. The De Juana case was presented as the government giving in to blackmail by illegally decreeing the early release of an unrepentant mass murderer to keep its partners happy, an allegation that is set to be raised repeatedly in the coming campaign for the regional elections as an example of the government yielding to ETA. Demonstrations were held on 24 February and 10 March, the first one called by the AVT to demand that De Juana serve his entire sentence in prison and the second one called by the PP to protest against the application of a relaxed prison regime. The view from the abertzale scene could not have been more different: De Juana was a prisoner unlawfully kept in prison after having served his sentence as a result of political interference in judicial process aimed at preventing a release that would have embarrassed the government.

Moreover, it is not an isolated case, as former justice minister López Aguilar announced that attempts would be made to bring new charges against other unrepentant ETA members sentenced for "blood crimes" whose release was imminent, and the so-called "Parot doctrine" was established by the Tribunal Supremo in the case involving ETA member Henri Parot on 28 February 2006. It decreed that sentence redemptions would be applied successively to the sentences detainees are serving, rather than directly to the maximum allowed, which would often render them ineffective, ensuring that repeat offenders serve the 30-year maximum. The government stressed that the house arrest measure was lawful as De Juana's case fulfilled the conditions required for it to be applied, that the prisoner was still serving his sentence and had not thus been "released", that his sentences for murders had already been served and he was now under arrest for the articles, and that the measure was adopted to stop him from dying, with the State showing a mercy of which terrorists were incapable, stopping De Juana Chaos from becoming a martyr. The message was that De Juana did not win, as he is still under arrest, and the government, police forces and courts will continue to fight terrorism and to implement the law with all its rigour.


Times, 5-6,13.2.07; Behatokia (Basque Human Rights Observatory) dossier on the De Juana Chaos case (includes the two articles by the prisoner),; El País 24.11.06, 1,11.3.07.

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