Friday, January 04, 2008

Who's A Terrorist? Everyone's A Terrorist

How many readers of this blog are familiar with a trial in Spain known as “18/98”? This recently concluded trial was one of these huge judicial processes said to be aimed at organisations close to ETA and which provide support to that organisation. It ended with almost 50 defendants being sentenced to a collective total of around 500 years imprisonment, and has been hailed in the mainstream media as an important blow against ETA supporters. It is easy to assume that there must be something behind the sentence, after all surely the courts wouldn’t condemn people to prison sentences like this if they didn’t have at least something to do with terrorism? Well, I present to you the case of Sabino Ormazabal. Sabino is openly committed to non-violence as a key part of his political philosophy, and has publicly criticised the consequences of ETA attacks. Amongst other activities he has participated in days of action involving the collaboration of victims of terrorism from both sides in Northern Ireland. Despite all of these activities, and the clear rejection of violence to achieve political ends, Ormazabal has been sentenced to 9 years imprisonment; which is more than many people get for doing seriously violent things.

Surely the appeal court will do something to put this right? Well, the grounds for appeal are fairly limited in Spain and if the judges in the original case were evidently not very interested in dealing with the reality of the accused, then there is no reason to think that those hearing appeals will act differently. With cases such as this we are witnessing the ludicrous extension of the label “terrorist” to people whose political activities are entirely legitimate. Sabino’s best hope may turn out to be the European Tribunal of Human Rights and it is not at all far fetched to see him being adopted as a prisoner of conscience by organisations such as Amnesty International. In the meantime it is very likely he will end up in prison.

Talking of Europe, the case by ETA’s political wing Batasuna against the law used to make that organisation illegal (the Ley de Partidos) has been accepted for hearing by the European Tribunal. Despite this, it now looks almost certain that Acción Nacionalista Vasca (ANV) and the Communist Party of the Basque Lands (EHAK) are going to be declared illegal under the same law in the next few weeks. The government has been dropping very heavy hints on the issue and judge Baltasar Garzon has been gathering the “evidence”. Is there any relationship between this judge and the Baltasar Garzon who declared a few months ago that it was wrong to engage in a never ending series of illegalisations? Unfortunately there is. It appears that electoral expediency means that the government has decided to pre-empt the thorny issue of ANV presenting candidates in the elections and thus giving ammunition to the PP in their eternal attempt to reap electoral benefits from terror.

The judicial investigation that takes place to justify these bans is a charade; the Ley de Partidos was originally introduced with the specific intention of banning Batasuna, and was immediately followed by an “investigation” which could only possibly have one outcome. The same is happening now with ANV and EHAK. First the decision is taken to illegalise, then you look for reasons to justify that decision; precisely the opposite process to that which you would normally expect. So the game will begin again, there will be attempts by Batasuna supporters to get round the law and present candidacies in the elections, and any organisation which demonstrates sympathy with such attempts runs the risk of being illegalised.

Although I do not sympathise with Batasuna or their aims I hope they win the case in Europe, because the way things are going at the moment you will soon just need to know someone whose cousin had a friend who once lived next door to a member of ETA to be labelled as a terrorist collaborator. Someone has to put a stop to a process of criminalisation by association or ideas and it’s clearly not going to be the Spanish government or judiciary that does it. The terrorist is the person who places the bomb or pulls the trigger, but we are now seeing a creeping process where the definition is being applied to people who are not part of ETA and who even explicitly reject the use of terror as a way forward.

No comments: