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French citizen’s extradition to Spain sparks outrage

AFP

A French Basque separatist was handed over to Spain on Thursday after she was arrested in France on a European arrest warrant from Madrid, sparking a wave of criticism across the political spectrum in France, where her activities are not illegal.

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More than two years after Spain first issued a Europe-wide arrest warrant for French citizen and Basque separatist Aurore Martin (pictured, above), the 33-year-old was stopped by police earlier this week in southwest France and handed over to the authorities in Madrid.

The non-violent political activist was driving alone through her hometown on Thursday afternoon when French police pulled her over for what they say was a routine drink-driving check.

Immediately identified as a high-profile Basque separatist wanted by the Spanish authorities, Martin was detained by the police and within hours, had been transported to Madrid, where she faces 12 years in prison on terrorism-related charges.

Her offence – in the eyes of Spanish law – is having attended two Batasuna political party meetings in the Spanish city of Pamplona in 2006 and 2007. Batasuna was ruled an illegal movement in Spain in 2003 and attending their meetings thereby a criminal offence. The group is considered the political arm of the Basque terrorist group, ETA.

But in France, where Batasuna is not an illegal group, Martin’s arrest has caused a storm of criticism against the French government, and in particular, Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who many high-profile Martin sympathisers believe gave the green light for her arrest.

On Sunday, Valls told regional newspaper Sud Ouest Dimanche that he had “played no part” in extraditing Martin, stressing that “the decision to carry out the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) was a judicial decision”.

‘No blood on her hands’

On Friday evening, some 500 people gathered in the French Basque city of Bayonne to protest Martin’s extradition, while in parliament, support for the activist came from across the political spectrum. Representatives from the centrist MoDem party, conservative UMP party, independent Basque movements, Green parties and Valls’ own Socialist Party all called for clarification over the operation.

On Sunday Valls responded to the outcry when he told Sud Ouest Dimanche that he found it, “strange for elected officials – particularly parliamentary lawmakers – to discourage the application of the law”. He also rejected concerns over Martin’s fate at the hands of the Spanish authorities. “I entrust the Spanish justice system [...] to keep in mind that she does not have blood on her hands,” he told Sud Ouest Dimanche.

He also restated that Martin had been “chanced upon” by police during a routine drink-driving check.

But to sympathisers, the timing of Martin’s arrest appeared suspicious. Just four days before she was detained, Valls had pledged the “maximum level of cooperation” with the Spanish government in the fight against ETA in an interview with Spanish daily El Pais. “We are 100% behind Spain in its fight against ETA,” he said, hailing the strong ties between the two governments.

On Saturday, political ally Anita Lopepe, accused Valls – who was born and brought up in Barcelona – of siding with Spain’s ruling party, the Partido Popular. “It’s a simple relay between Paris and Madrid,” she said.

Meanwhile, Batasuna member Jean-François Lefort told a press conference in Bayonne that the group did not believe police reports that Martin had simply been detained during a routine road check.

'Prepared for prison'

Martin, who was brought up in the small south-western town of Mauleon and educated at a Basque-language school, has already been imprisoned twice, the first time when she was just 22. Arrested as part of a police crackdown at a pro-separatist rally in 2003, Martin has said that the month she was forced to spend in prison was what pushed her to become a politically active separatist.

Almost a decade later, Spain issued Martin with a Europe-wide arrest warrant, forcing her into hiding. In December 2010, she wrote an open letter to local French newspaper Le Journal, expressing her fear of being arrested. “I have no intention of giving in to the Spanish authorities,” she said. “Nor of allowing France to carry out my European Arrest Warrant.” Her decision was supported by some 40 local politicians, who publicly admitted to having helped her avoid the police. “Opening your door to Aurore Martin is a legitimate act,” they wrote in a statement, calling on all other locals to do the same.

Six months later, she re-emerged in Biarritz. But a mission by plain clothes police officers to arrest her was called off after a visit to her sister’s home sparked a spontaneous protest by some 50 local residents, who took Martin to a local bar and surrounded her.

“I know I have to prepare for prison,” she said in an interview with Le Journal in June 2010. “I know that one day, I’ll stand before the Audiencia Nacional [Spain’s highest court]. I have got used to the idea, but I still can’t accept it. I don’t know how I’m going to cope.”

On Friday morning, Martin faced judges at the Audiencia Nacional. She will remain in prison until her trial.

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