Listen to an interview with Ivan by clicking the play button below. You can download the MP3 here.
Ivan is a 36 year old Basque man from the town of Beasaín. He first came to Canada six years ago. Ivan grew up in the Basque country where he was active in the student movement while attending the Universidad del País Vasco-Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea (UPV-EHU). Like many Basques, he was also a sympathizer of the left-sovereignist partyBatasuna. The Spanish state’s repression of sympathizers and participants of the Basque left-sovereignist movement (composed of a variety of civil society organizations, media outlets, political groups, and involving all sectors of Basque society) has been intense and inhumane since control of the Basque by the Spanish state in the early 1800’s. Today, this political repression continues unabated through attacks against all sectors of Basque society in a cruel attempt to dismantle the Basque movement’s social support base and erase the identity of the Basque people. The current Spanish government’s regime continues many of the policies of the Franco dictatorship in dealing with the Basque left.
Fearing unjust criminalization, imprisonment and likely torture at the hands of the Spanish authorities because of his political involvement, Ivan left the Basque Country in 1997 after finishing university. He came to Canada in 2001 under an assumed name - for fear of being unjustly targeted and sent back to torture and imprisonment in Spain. During the past six years in Canada, he has tried to live and work in peace and with dignity. In 2006, Ivan moved to Montreal from Vancouver.
In June 2007, Ivan was arrested by the RCMP, acting at the behest of the Spanish authorities, while on a bicycle trip in Quebec. From the time of his arrest until the middle of January 2008, Ivan was imprisoned in the high security Protection wing of the Rivièredes-Prairies detention centre in Montreal. In mid-January, Ivan was transferred to the regular prison population.
Basing itself solely on Spain's allegations, the Canadian government is also accusing Ivan of having participated in terrorist activities while in the Basque Country. Specifically, the government is alleging that Ivan was a member of the ETA - an armed nationalist Basque group. Ivan denies ever having been a member of the ETA and also denies the particular crimes for which he is accused. He has never been convicted of any crime in Spain. Despite his lawyers in Montreal having demanded to see the proof that the Spanish government is using to support its accusations against Ivan, no such proof has been provided by the Canadian authorities - meaning that Ivan’s forcible removal towards torture and imprisonment is being based on nothing more than a list of unsubstantiated accusations.
Importantly, all of the accusations against Ivan clearly appear to come from a declaration made by a Basque woman during her interrogation by Spanish officials. She later denied the declaration when brought before a judge and testified that she had been tortured during the interrogation.
Ivan has asked for political asylum in Canada. Currently, Ivan’s refugee claim is suspended while the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) subjects him to an inadmissibility hearing, alleging that he is a member of the ETA. Essentially, theCanadian state is attempting to forcibly remove Ivan through immigration proceedings without even having to present any evidence whatsoever to support the allegations against him or allowing him to make his Refugee Claim.
In the mean time, Ivan has been detained at the Rivière-des-Prairies detention centre for six months already. Between the time of his arrest in June 2007 and mid-January 2008,he was held in the high security Protection wing of the prison, which meant he could not have contact visits (even with family members), he was only allowed to be visited by his lawyers and his family members (who besides short visits, reside in the Basque Country). Ivan has also been denied adequate health care for a problem with his back – which doctors have confirmed requires being treated in a hospital.
At the various detention review hearings that Ivan has gone through since June 2007, all with the objective of determining whether he can be released from jail while going through the inadmissibility proceedings, immigration commissioners themselves have judged him to be a minimal threat to the Canadian public. Despite his parents’ offer of a significant sum of money as a guarantee for respecting his potential conditions of release, the Canadian government continues to require his continued detention.
By claiming that Ivan has participated in 'terrorist activities' - a common pretense for the false criminalization of marginalized peoples and those involved in social movements both before and particularly since 9/11 - the Canadian state is attempting to quickly disappear a Basque man at the bidding of Spain - notorious for its violent repression of Basques. There are several cases in which other states have refused the extradition ofBasque nationals to Spain specifically for the lack of evidence against them and the evidence of the use of torture by Spanish government in the context of its repression against Basques.
The use of the anti-terrorism rhetoric to repress minorities, the politically active and those that the Canadian state is waging war against abroad has become sadly predictable. Whether we look at the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, the generalized false criminalization of Arabs and Muslims since 9/11 including the reprehensible use of Security Certificates and renditions to torture and the extraditions of other Basque nationalists to imprisonment in Spain, the 'terrorist' label has created a brutal and unquestioned manner for states such as Canada, Spain, the U.S. and others to justify war at home and abroad, the oppression of minorities and the suppression of social movements.
This is not the first time that the Canadian state has co-operated with Spain in the persecution of Basque nationalists. In 2005, Gorka Salazar Perea and Eduardo Plagaro Perez de Arrilucea were removed to Spain. Initially they were accused of belonging to the ETA – an accusation which was later disproved in court. Currently, another Basque man – Victor Tejedor Bilbao is being held in Vancouver under allegations of pertaining to ETA and awaiting deportation to Spain.
The linking of Ivan Apaolaza Sancho to the ETA is not incidental. There is a long history of repression of Basque nationals by Spanish authorities based on allegations that they are participants or sympathizers of the ETA. This stifling criminalization of Basques by the Spanish state reaches all sectors of Basque society as support for the nationalist movement is widespread.
The Ley de Partidos (Political parties law) has outlawed all political parties that do not a priori condemn “violence” – resulting in the criminalization of various parties, includingBatasuna. Recently, the European Court of Human Rights has agreed to hear Batasuna’s contestation of the Ley de Partidos.
In December of 2007, a total of 520 years of sentences were handed down to forty-seven individuals accused of being linked to the ETA in the well-known 18/98 case. This case clearly demonstrates how the Spanish state targets all sectors of civil society in an attempt to destroy the social base of the Basque nationalist movement and the Basque identity in general. Essentially, the 18/98 case involved the criminalization of journalists, lawyers, participants in the youth movement, educators, members of human rights organizations, NGO’s and social groups and the shutting down of major media outlets in a sweeping round-up of groups and individuals all linked by the common accusation of supporting ETA through different means.
Egin, the second most widely circulated Basque newspaper (over 100, 000 readers) was also criminalized and shut down in 1998 after twenty years of circulation, along with the imprisonment of its previous editor. The youth movement, Jarrai-Haika-Segi has been criminalized. Defense lawyers in what are considered to be “political cases” are also being targeted by Spanish authorities, as are NGO’s that support political prisoners.
Conditions for Basque political prisoners are reprehensible. Under Spanish law, a five to thirteen day incommunicado detention of individuals accused of terrorist activities is allowed during which detainees have no contact with anyone, including no access to a lawyer or medical attention. Many prisoners have been forced into signing false statements under torture during this period, statements which they have later denied when brought before a judge. Political prisoners are subject to consecutive increases in their prison terms based on new laws being applied retroactively – even when close to finishing their sentences. Prisoners are often incarcerated far from their families because of a policy of “dispersion” and in fact several family members of political prisoners have suffered serious accidents and have died on their way to visit their loved ones. Elderly prisoners, suffering from terminal diseases are also serving sentences several decades long.
The use of incommunicado detention and torture by Spanish authorities has been denounced by Amnesty International and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, in addition to dozens of Basque organizations and human rights organizations around the world.
The number of Basque political prisoners and political refugees speaks for itself. Between 1977 and 2002, 18 721 people were arrested in the Basque Country for political reasons.
During the same period, for political reasons:
There are six political prisoners from Ivan Apaolaza’s hometown of Beasaín alone, which has a population of only 13,000.
Spain has benefited from the cooperation of other states in its persecution of Basques –notably through placement of Basque nationalists on European and North American terrorist lists, through extraditions and the impunity it has enjoyed while torturing, imprisoning and killing Basques. As a signatory of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Canada has a responsibility to oppose the extradition and deportation of asylum claimants who risk torture in their country of origin.
While a support committee and campaign is coming together to fight for Ivan’s freedom in Montreal, he also has an overwhelming amount of support in his home town of Beasaín in the Basque Country. Already, Ivan’s parents have been able to collect over2000 signatures on petitions demanding a stop to his deportation proceedings to Spain and calling on Canada to grant him political asylum. Beasaín’s municipal assembly has also adopted a motion supporting his asylum claim in Canada and denouncing his criminalization.
In Montreal, his family, friends and supporters are demanding:
We are asking you to support Ivan’s fight for justice against the repression and impunity of the Spanish state and the complicity of Canada in creating yet another Basque political prisoner and sending him to torture. At this point, you can support by:
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Contactez le Réseau de la commission populaire: GRIP-Concordia - Réseau de la commission populaire c/o Université Concordia 1455 de Maisonneuve O Montréal, QC, H3G 1M8 email@example.com
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