Wednesday 13th June, Altsasu. Banners saying "Leave Altsasu Alone" decorate the balconies in the town. You can feel the pain, but no grief or resignation. To the contrary: the town's solidarity and strength is palpable. There are three or four locals having their afternoon coffee at Koxka Bar. 606 days have gone by since the brawl which took place there between some young locals and two Civil Guards and their sentimental partners. That is where it all started, on a market Friday in 2016, in a small bar in this Navarrese town. And as I write these line the matter is on trial at the National Court in Madrid.
577 days have gone by since Spanish National Court judge Carmen Lamela linked the brawl to "terrorism" and sent Adur Ramirez de Alda, Jokin Unamuno and Oihan Arnanz to prison. Lamela argued that "If they were allowed to go free it would be impossible to be sure that they would not attack the victims' legal property or commit other crimes".
60 days have gone by since 50,000 came together in Iruñea to demand their freedom.
Twelve days have gone by since news came through about the Altsasu trial. The judges at Madrid's National Court saw no trace of terrorism in the brawl, nor that the accused had any connection with ETA, nor that they had taken part in that organization. However, even though the crime of terrorism was ruled out, they sentenced the young people to a total of 79 years in prison: "damages, public disorder and threats" and "attacking authority" were the crimes they were now accused of. Only seven days have gone by since on the morning of June 5th the Civil Guard took control of the town and arrested Jon Ander Cob, Aratz Urrizola, Iñaki Abad and Julen Goikoetxea.
It was another hard blow. The young people's families and friends believed that they had enough energy to carry on after the trial. But the currently peaceful atmosphere is not to the taste of the accusation, and the storm broke on the eve of the demonstration: the Public Prosecutor made it known to the press that an appeal would be made in order to try the young people for "crimes of terrorism". José Perals, the National Court prosecutor, requested prison sentences of between 12 and 62 years for "wounds and terrorist threats". In spite of everything, nobody knew that three days later Iruñea was to become a breathing space of solidarity.
Parents all in, the people behind them
"There are people here who have never gone to a demonstration. We're all here. This is incredibly unfair", said a young person outside Iruñea's Sadar football stadium, where the number of people made it almost impossible to move. Altsasuko Gurasoak ('The Altsasu Parents') headed the demonstration with banners saying "This is not Justice" and drawings of their children; behind them were people from all over the Basque Country, Catalonia and the Spanish State. The organizers counted more than 80,000 people there, making it the biggest demonstration ever held in Navarre.
Cualquiera que defienda la justicia independientemente de su tendencia política, procedencia o edad debería ver claramente la desproporción injustificable que supone el caso de nuestros hijos e hija. Ayer más de 80 000 personas nos unimos reclamando JUSTICIA. #AltsasukoakASKE pic.twitter.com/2N6OfUbmSe
— Altsasu gurasoak (@Altsasugurasoak) 2018(e)ko ekainaren 17(a)
The wide Zaragoza Avenue was too narrow and short for the 2.5 kilometre demonstration; Iruñea was too small. Throughout the demonstration there were shouts of "Free the Altsasu People!" and "This is not Justice!" as well as waves of applause. Mikel Markez, Esti, El Drogas and Jon Maiak sang Altsasu Aurrera ('Forward, Altsasu'), and 'Best Foot Forward' was played from the speakers for demonstrators who did not reach the finale at Freedom Square; then Jon Maia sang "Kisses on the Wounds". The ceremony ended with the young people's parents holding up a huge banner of thanks, feeling themselves loved and protected by all the people there. They lifted the banner up on three poles and carried it backwards through the demonstration, over the crowd's heads, moved by the waves of applause from the people who had not got to the closing ceremony.
On the day after the demonstration many newspapers had photos of it on their covers. There were also thousands of messages about it on the social networks, and the organizers also underlined the renewed strength on the buses back home from the demonstration.
"They've changed the demonstration route on us again" said Eneko Mendiluze to Aritz Leoz three days beforehand. They are both members of the Altsasukoak Aske platform and friends of Iñaki Abad, now in prison. They say that they are tired, as they have been for the last year and a half. But they greeted us with a smile and said that they had more than enough energy to carry on. "This thing's turned my life upside down", said Leoz. "Some of us in the town started organising things when the first arrests took place. This has been my priority over the last two years. Free time's become a luxury." As they have proclaimed throughout the process, the trial is "pure vengeance", and the police frame-up is a one-legged table. "We see the frame-up based on four areas: legal, political, police and media." The press frame-up has been essential in order to create and feed the accusation's discourse, and the two friends believe that several media have "created and inflamed" the story.
"I think the sentence is highly significant, it's a turning point. You can see that many state forces want to carry on using the dynamics from some years ago and keep those structures in place. This sentence opens up some other possibilities when it comes to how the State operates: if something else like this happens, they'll use what's happened in Altsasu as their model", Leoz says. Mendiluze agrees with him, and cannot hide the fury which the subject makes him feel: "We feel that they have kidnapped our friends forcefully." It seems like a science fiction film to them, and they think that the arrests at the start of the month confirm the connection between reality and fiction.
“They've gone out of their way to cause pain. We're really suffered, and what we've gone through in the town has been horrendous. The police walking all over the town, making recordings, and it was obvious that something weird was going on. But we didn't want to raise the alarm as sometimes that's what they're looking for, trying to start a fight. We've shown that we can avoid that from happening", Leoz states. He mentions Iñaki Abad's case: "Just look how dignified he was when he went to the Civil Guard, who had said he was a flight risk. What a risk he was! Knowing that he hadn't done a thing, that the accusations were a pure lie, and that the accusers were liars, he went there with full dignity and they arrested him. That's the symbol of that morning for me."
"The morning of the arrests was like a scene from the '90's", says Bel Pozueta about the arrest of the other four young people. Her son has been in Soto del Real prison for the last sixteen months, and the trial of the Altsasu young people has become the centre of her life "From when I get up to when I go to bed, it's in my mind all the time. And we've made an absolute commitment to providing information about it, working together and carrying on the fight." Goikoetxea looks at her understandingly, knowing what Pozueta is going through: "The trial has become part of our lives. We don't have much of a life right now. But as with all bad things, for example cancer, it's your life and you have to get on with it. We no longer have ordinary conversations at home, all our thoughts are about how to help Jokin." She is Jokin Unamuno's mother; Jokin is in Estremera prison. When she was with ARGIA, Unamuno had spent 577 days there in remand along with Ramirez de Alda and Oihan Arnanz.
Two Sides of the Coin
The Spanish National Court announced its sentence on 1st June, just over a month after the end of the trial. Altsasu locals Aritz Leoz and Eneko Mendiluze had not expected such a sentence: "We were hopeful because the senselessness of the trial was so obvious. We all had the sensation that it was a script which had been written from start to finish. The sentence made it very clear that there has been no justice whatsoever in this case. Many people cried in Altsasu that day."
But Pozueta and Goikoetxea's expectations were very different. They expected the sentence. In fact, they know "what the National Court is", and the sentences against their sons have not surprised them because the accusations against them were "more political" than the others. "We said it after the trial: legally we've won, but our lawyers warned us that the National Court is more that just legal, it's also political. It's objective is to control, to obtain vengeance and make sure that the Civil Guard is untouchable", says Bel Pozueta. Goikoetxea says that perhaps the other parents were surprised by the sentence, there being different types of people amongst Altsasuko Gurasoak and the accused.
Even though there are different personalities, they share the same reasons to fight and objective: "This is absolutely traumatic. If they're imprisoned you because of your militancy, you know what can happen. But this is quite different: they kidnap you and steal your life from you, from both the young people and their families."
Best Foot Forward
Although she had expected it, Igone Goikoetxea could not get her son's 12-year prison sentence out of her head when it was announced: "They always make you suffer a little." But Jokin Unamuno gave her a different message over the phone. He told his mother that "they should be glad" that they were no longer accused of terrorism, and that nothing in future could be worse than that. She says that her son is strong, ready to face what comes next. He has met prisoners in Estremera prison who receive no visits or help from anybody, who get by without any kind of support. Unlike them, Jokin Unamuno told his mother that they felt supported by the whole town. "Although they get them late, they do get photos of the demonstration and messages of solidarity in prison", says Goikoetxea. The four people arrested on 5th June have also taken messages of solidarity with them to the cells, for instance from the demonstration on 14th April.
Goikoetxea's son gave her a practical exercise: "Draw up a table of all the good things and bad things which this has lead to." Her son being in prison causes her "more pain than anything else", but she underlines the support and solidarity she has received, and strength to fight: "We have wonderful fellow citizens." Although the sensationalist press wants to sell the idea that Altsasu is divided into two halves, the reality is quite different. "The town is more united than ever", says Bel Pozueta, knowing how tiring the whole process has been. They underline that neighbours of all ideologies have gone to the demonstrations, taken part in meetings and other acts, giving ceaseless emotional and economic support. To which they have no more than words of thanks, and a clear message: "Leave Altsasu Alone!"
Informazio askea lantzen dugu ARGIAn, langileok gara proiektuaren jabeak eta gure informazioen atzean ez duzu sekula multinazionalik, bankurik edo alderdi politikorik topatuko. Gure ustez, burujabetza guztien oinarrian dago informazio burujabetza, ezagutzen dugunaren gainean pentsatzen eta erabakitzen dugu. Horregatik diogu kazetaritza independentea dela demokraziaren oinarrietako bat.
Aldizkaria paperean etxean edo e-postan PDFan jaso nahi duzu? Pozik hartuko zaitugu ARGIAko komunitatean. ARGIAkoa izateko, nahi eta ahal duzun ekarpena egin dezakezu, eta bueltan egoki ikusten duzuna eskatu. Indartu dezagun indartzen gaituena!
Begoña Zabala (Algorta, Basque Country, 1950) reached Iruñea in 1977 and was a first-hand witness of the police attack in the bullring and outside it. She is a lawyer by profession, a member of the committee for establishing what took place, and she has worked on the legal side of the matter. She took a very active part in the feminist movement in the 1970's, and has just published the book Feminismo, Transición y Sanfermines del 78 ('Feminism,... [+]
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