The Strasbourg Human Rights Court has punished Spain for not giving Arnaldo Otegi a fair trial. As a result of the unfair trial the Basque Left leader spent six and a half years in a Spanish prison, as did a further four people on trial in the Bateragune (´Place for Coming Together') case.
Otegi has also been disqualified from public office for 10 years and, as a result, was unable to be the EH Bildu candidate in the 2016 Basque Parliament elections. And, if his punishment is not quashed after it has been appealed against, he will not be able to take part in the 2020 elections either.
This is a serious issue for Spain because, as a result of the trial which Strasbourg has condemned, five people had to spend six years in prison. So Spain should have to take some sort of measure to resolve that legally caused harm: the trial cannot be held again because the sentences have already been served, but Otegi's and Rafa Diez's prohibition from standing for public office should be quashed.
Furthermore, the trail made the Bateragune Five victims of the Spanish State. If citizens are punished for any harm they may cause, is there not even more reason for a State to be treated in the same way when it causes harm? How can you pay for the six years each of the five spent in prison?
But in the Bateragune trial the State did not only punish the five leaders; it also led to an ill-intentioned, biased interpretation of the work which the Basque Left was carrying out at the time in the peace process. The vast majority of Basque people know that the Bateragune Five and several other people were key to ETA giving up its arms, but the State had already decided that it was going to use all its power to prevent the peace process, and that strategy included the imprisonment of the five.
Other obstacles to the peace process included carrying on making arrests and criminalising Basque Left organisations, making conditions even harder for prisoners, all to try to prevent ETA from giving up its arms.
The State's violation of human rights cannot be resolved – the damage has been done – but, as ETA requested, it is time for the Spanish State to recognise its responsibility. Recognising the harm done to the Bateragune Five would be a small step towards clearing the atmosphere in the Basque Country, which is still coloured by so much suffering.
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