High Court to probe homage to deceased ETA leader in Bizkaia

'Abertzale' member bailed on glorifying terrorism charge amid calls for Sortu ban

Iker Rodrigo Basterretxea (circled) at the homage to ETA leader 'Thierry' last Friday.
Iker Rodrigo Basterretxea (circled) at the homage to ETA leader 'Thierry' last Friday.ALFREDO ALDAI (EFE)

The Civil Guard on Monday arrested Iker Rodrigo Basterretxea, a member of Sortu's Provincial Council in Bizkaia, on charges of glorifying terrorism. The nationalist party politician, formerly a member of Batasuna, ETA's outlawed political wing, is believed to have been one of the main organizers of an act of remembrance for Xabier López Peña, Thierry, a former leader of the terrorist organization who died of heart problems in a Paris hospital last month.

The body of López Peña was greeted at Loiu airport in Bizkaia last Friday by around 150 people with Basque flags and fists raised, cheering and shouting pro-ETA slogans. Both Sortu and López Peña's family denied Basterretxea had had any involvement in organizing the homage. "Neither Sortu nor any other entity had anything to do with the reception, or with Xabier's civil funeral," the ETA leader's family said in a statement through the families of ETA prisoners association Etxerat. The Sortu coalition also denied the party had in any way participated in the reception for López Peña's body.

His relatives also sought to distance themselves from those who shouted slogans in favor of ETA at the event. "It is the sole responsibility of those people, whose conduct is in no way shared by the family."

Prosecutors in the regional and national High Courts were handed a report on the reception by the central government delegate in the Basque Country, Carlos Urquijo. The text, compiled by the National Police, stated that the participants shouted "long live ETA."

A police report states participants at the homage shouted "long live ETA"

Joining the assembly were former Batasuna member Tasio Erkizia; the lawyer for ETA prisoners, Arantza Zulueta; the secretary general of the LAB Basque nationalist labor union, Ainhoa Etxaide and Sortu member Niko Moreno. At the Galdakao cemetery during López Peña's funeral were former ETA member and Sortu leader Rufi Etxeberria, party president Hasier Arraiz and EH Bildu deputy Maribi Ugarteburu.

Basterretxea stands accused of the crime of glorifying terrorism, while Sortu itself is facing the scrutiny of attorney general Eduardo Torres-Dulce, who said he might seek to make the abertzale coalition illegal "at a certain moment," if recent homages to ETA members constitute a crime. The chief prosecutor in the Basque Country, Juan Calparsoro, said last Friday that he believed the reception could be considered a criminal act. The Association of Victims of Terrorism has also called for Sortu to be outlawed. The High Court's chief prosecutor, Javier Zaragoza, has initiated an investigation into López Peña's reception.

Basterretxea was bailed by High Court judge Eloy Velasco on Tuesday but ordered to report monthly. He also had his passport confiscated and was forbidden from leaving the country while the investigation continues. Basterretxea was leader of the banned nationalist youth association Jarrai between 1996 and 1999 and stood in the 2005 regional elections for the Basque Communist Party. In 2009 he was arrested and accused of attempting to reform Batasuna, which was outlawed in 2003. Three years later he was cleared of charges of belonging to a terrorist organization.

Amaiur, a progressive abertzale coalition, called on the government delegate to stop filing "these sorts of lawsuits, which come to nothing and are a waste of resources," while Aralar, a member of the same coalition, demanded the crime of glorifying terrorism be repealed entirely.

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