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Altsasu, a year in prison that has changed a whole town

Three of the eight youths charged with terrorism are still behind bars

Tomorrow will mark the first anniversary of the Civil Guard operation leading to the arrest of eight youths from Altsasu (Navarre). The eight stand accused of terrorist offences following events that had taken place a month earlier, when scuffles broke out in a bar fight between a group of local youths and two Civil Guard officers. What appeared at first to be a typical late-night brawl was dealt with by Madrid’s National Court as a terrorist crime. From that moment on nothing has been the same for the defendants, their relatives, their friends, and the residents of Altsasu.

Judge Lamela’s decision

Carmen Lamela, the same National Court judge who recently ordered the presidents of two pro-independence organisations and half of Catalonia’s’ government to be kept in prison without bail, also ordered the six youths involved in the case to be detained since there seemed to be a "flight risk". This in spite of the fact that two days earlier they had appeared voluntarily before the court in Madrid on hearing that they were being investigated. Three of those involved —Oihan Arnanz, Jokin Unamuno and Adur Ramírez de Alda— remain in jail.

Bel Pozueta, the mother of Adur, told ARA that "the whole process has been extremely tough". In spite of the "emotional fatigue", she feels "stronger and more determined than ever to continue fighting until the end". She has been helped by the enormous show of support they have all received, both in the town and the whole of Navarre, the Basque Country and the rest of Spain. "A whole year has passed, and people still ask about Adur, and they send their encouragement just as much as on the first day. The show of support is amazing".

Aritz Leoz is part of Entzun Altsasu, a support group that was created to defend the town against the "distorted, false and unreal" image that was painted of the town following the incident which took place during the local fiesta. "People were really angry; we try to channel this social outrage".

A month after the arrests, unrest had been growing in the town and the organisation decided to call for a public show of support for the detainees’ families. On 26 November last year, 20,000 people took to the streets of Altsasu, a town with a population of just 7,600. A year later such efforts are still taking place.

As Pozueta stated, while the arrests were the beginning of the nightmare, things got much worse in July when they heard the penalties the prosecutor's office was asking for their children. Charges of terrorism —following the strategy of "It’s all linked to ETA”-- ranging from 12 to 62 years in prison for the various defendants, 375 years in total.

The policy of imprisoning those charged or convicted with terrorist crimes far from their homes and in separate prisons has also been a heavy burden for the families to bear. "Adur is in a prison in Aranjuez (Oihan and Jokin are in Navalcarnero). We get up at 3 in the morning to visit them, sometimes for just 40 minutes. A few months ago, they punished him, they punished us all, and we couldn’t see him for three months", recalls Pozueta. The reason: Adur waved from the window of his cell to a group of people from the town who were gathered outside the prison. A gesture of thanks for their solidarity that cost him three months in solitary confinement.

According to Leoz, "The hostile media coverage and the police’s handling of the case have meant that life has changed for the town’s residents". Those who have showed signs of solidarity have not escaped repression either. Over the last year, dozens of youngsters have been fined for having shown their support for the detainees in the form of T-shirts and posters. However, it has failed to put an end to the #AltsasukoakAske (Freedom for the young people of Altsasu) movement.

Altsasu wants the nightmare to finally come to an end, though the townspeople realise it is still far from over, since a trial date has yet to be announced. "The more we are attacked, the more united we stand and the more solidarity we show. We’ve always been a resilient people", Leoz declares. The events of the last year have taken their toll on Altsasu.

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