Speaking from the Basque Country, Ms Anderson said:
“The purpose of the delegation is to investigate serious claims of human rights abuses against Basque political prisoners and their families.
“We have met with the Basque prisoners’ relatives’ association Etxerat, as well as local politicians, trade unions, and human rights organisations.
“Of particular concern is the Spanish government’s policy of dispersal, a punitive policy which is inflicting unnecessary distress on prisoners and their loved ones since introduced in 1989.
“As well as denying prisoners the right to see their relatives, this policy unfairly punishes the families by forcing them to make long round trips, at an average cost of €20,000 per year and resulting in the deaths of 16 relatives and injuries to many more as a result of road accidents while travelling to prisons.
“There are around four hundred Basque political prisoners imprisoned in more than 70 prisons in Spain, France and Portugal, hundreds of kilometres away from their families.
“The policy of dispersal is cruel and a breach of European and international human rights law, and must end. All Basque political prisoners should be returned, in the first instance, to prisons in the Basque Country.
“The Spanish government must also bring an immediate end to political trials against Basque pro-independence activists. There are currently more than 50 people serving sentences in Spanish prisons for purely political activity.
“The armed conflict in the Basque Country is over, but in order for the Basque Peace Process to move forward, the issue of political prisoners and the persecution of political activists must be resolved.
“The issue of prisoner release has been central to every peace process in post conflict situations around the globe. We know from our own experience in Ireland that former political prisoners,
when released as part of a peace building process, play an essential role in consolidating the peace.
“The continued imprisonment of Basque prisoners is an unnecessary obstacle to building peace and as part of that process a prisoner release programme should be developed without further delay.”
“Our delegation will be producing a report on its findings, which we hope will help improve the condition of Basque political prisoners and contribute to a peaceful, democratic resolution of the conflict in the Basque Country.”
NB: The delegation is composed of seven MEPs from three different political groups:
Gabriele Zimmer (GUE/NGL, Die Linke, Germany); Malin Björk (GUE/NGL, Vänsterpartiet, Sweden); Martina Anderson (GUE/NGL, Sinn Féin, Ireland); Lidia Senra (GUE/NGL, Alternativa Galega de Esquerda, Galicia); Josep-Maria Terricabras (Greens/EFA, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, Catalonia); Tatjana Zdanoka (Greens/EFA, Latvijas Krievu Savieniba, Latvia); Mark Demesmaeker (ECR, Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie, Belgium)