Basque country: death in prison and political trial

On the morning of 31 October, guards at the Spanish prison of Soria found the Basque political prisoner José Angel Altzuguren, known as Kotto to his comrades, dead in his cell. Kotto, who was 39, had suffered from severe clinical depression, but had been placed in three different prisons within a week, denied access to a doctor and kept in solitary confinement. He finally hanged himself using bed-sheets. JUANJO RIVAS reports.

The Basque movement blamed the Spanish state’s appalling policy of ‘dispersing’ prisoners, and reacted by turning Kotto’s funeral into a political protest. Meanwhile, repression, criminalisation and phoney trials against youth, social movements and private companies continue, under the excuse of ‘fighting terrorism’.

Kotto was a member of Batasuna, the Basque left-wing nationalist party banned by Judge Baltasar Garzón. Like many other political activists, he was deliberately portrayed by the state as belonging to the periphery of ETA, and therefore when he was arrested on 23 March 2001, he was accused of ‘collaboration with an armed group’. After his arrest, Kotto reported that the police gave him blows to the head, ears and stomach, put a plastic bag over his head to suffocate him and used psychological torture.

On 7 January 2005, he was released on bail pending appeal. By then, he was suffering from serious depression and requiring medication and psychological and psychiatric support. However, without warning he was arrested again on 22 October and ordered to complete the remaining two years of the sentence. For the next nine days Kotto was kept in isolation, transferred from Iruñea prison to Zaragoza, and finally to Soria, and was at no time seen by a doctor.

The dramatic end to his life was followed, on the night of 31 October, by a mass march of remembrance and protest against the prison system. It finished with the police shooting in the air to disperse the crowd.

The Basque media reported the scandal of Kotto’s treatment and death and social and political movements called for events and protests. Kotto’s funeral in his hometown Bera (Nafarroa) was attended by thousands of neighbours and activists waving Basque flags with mourning ties attached to them. Batasuna spokesperson, Arnaldo Otegui, carried the coffin and spoke, denouncing Spanish state repression of prisoners. As the Spanish king, Juan Carlos I, is head of the Armed Forces, Otegui named him as ‘chief torturer’. Immediately, the Spanish prosecutors added new charges to his file, ones which could lead to an indeterminate prison sentence.

After the protests to remember Kotto, Basque political activism turned to the defence of the accused at the largest mass trial in recent history. On 21 November, the trial began of 56 people charged with being part of a network to financially aid ETA, and to represent ‘its political apparatus, media coverage and international voice’. The truth is that the accused are the leadership of a Basque youth group (KAS), the editors of a Basque newspaper, the members of a group in solidarity with Basque exiles and the owners of pubs where social events have been held. All these organisations and private companies were dismantled by repressive laws, between 1998 and 2001.

Stop deaths of women prisoners
On 28 October 30-year-old Karen Fletcher died in London’s Holloway women’s’ prison. Since April 2004 there have been four deaths in Holloway. Julie Hope, who died on 17 April 2004, had not even been found guilty and was on remand. Another woman is still in a coma, having been cut down from a noose in May 2004.
Holloway is a vermin-infested hellhole. When the Chief Inspector of Prisons visited in 2004 she found ‘serious problems with infestations of mice, pigeons and insects’, filthy toilets’, a ‘poor standard of cleaning’ and ‘inadequate arrangements for rubbish disposal’.
On 9 November 2005 Pauline Campbell led a demonstration outside Holloway in protest about the death of Karen Fletcher and all those women who have died there. Flowers were laid outside Holloway in memory of Karen. Pauline is the mother of Sarah Campbell who died aged 18 in Styal Prison, Cheshire in January 2003.
The police were called to the demonstration and arrested Pauline for blocking the road, preventing a van carrying women prisoners from entering. She demanded that the women inside the van were taken instead to ‘a place that is safe’. This was the tenth time she had been arrested during her campaign to improve prison conditions.
Jim Wills

Censorship of Larkin Publications
As readers will be aware, FRFI always takes seriously any attempt to ban our publication from prison. On this occasion, it is not the newspaper which has been stopped, but copies of books produced and distributed by Larkin Publications.

Michael Westwood, who was convicted of participating in the Lincoln Prison uprising in 2002 and who is now in Full Sutton prison, has been told that he may not have copies of Strangeways 1990: a serious disturbance and Rock around the Blockade’s pamphlet The streets are ours – revolutionary Cuba. Furthermore, he has been told that he cannot even write to FRFI to protest about this, because our address is a box number!

As with all such harassment and censorship, we have written to complain, and we ask readers to do the same. Write to Bob Mullen, the governor at HMP
Full Sutton, Full Sutton, York YO41 1PS. m

Prison overcrowding – blame the foreigners

On 26 October Home Secretary Charles Clarke told a House of Commons Select Committee that the prison system was close to its maximum capacity of 78,147, and that part of the problem was that 12-13% of these prisoners were foreign nationals, whose rate of imprisonment over the past five years had increased by 75%, while that for British prisoners had only gone up by 11%.

Crunch the numbers how you wish, they are climbing inexorably. Distinguishing ‘foreign’ from British prisoners, just side-steps discussions about why such a very high proportion of all prisoners in British gaols, whatever their nationality, are black, and why, despite endless reports, investigations and inquiries, the system remains as racist as ever.

FRFI 188 December 2005 / January 2006


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