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Spain/Euskadi: Iñaki de Juana Chaos hunger strike raises the political temperature
01 April 2007
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 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.
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 terror