Basque separatist Swiss reject ETA activist’s asylum request

A demonstration in Bilbao, northern Spain, on April 17, 2016, which included 500 former prisoners of the Basque separatist group ETA

(Keystone)

A convicted member of the Basque separatist group ETA who is facing extradition to Spain from Switzerland has been denied Swiss asylum, according to her lawyer. The woman is appealing against the decision.

Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration had rejected a request for asylum by Nekane Txapartegi, the 43-year-old Spanish woman at the centre of an extradition battle, her lawyer Stephanie Motz told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) newspaper on Tuesday.

The news comes five days after Swiss justice authorities announced they want to extradite Txapartegi to Spain after rejecting her claim that she was tortured into confessing while in Spanish custody.

Txapartegi is appealing against both the extradition and asylum decisions, Motz told the NZZ.

Swiss authorities arrested her in Zurich on April 16, 2016. She had been living under an assumed name in Switzerland since 2009. Txapartegi had fled Spain that year after a court sentenced her to six years and nine months in jail for supporting ETA, a sentence that was reduced this year to three-and-a-half years, the Federal Office of Justice said in a statement.

Spanish court documents said she had acted as an intermediary for the Basque separatist group and carried out various missions in Europe and South America. Txapartegi never appealed against the Spanish court’s judgements.

“The ETA activist could not credibly show that she was actually tortured in Spain,” the Federal Office of Justice said.

But the Swiss branch of Amnesty International has criticised Switzerland’s decision to extradite her to Spain.

“It must be assumed that the confession used to condemn Nekane Txapartegi as a terrorist came under torture. The severe torture allegations were never effectively investigated by the Spanish judiciary,” the Swiss branch of Amnesty International said in a statement last week.

Not valid

It said the justice ministry’s claim she was not tortured was “not valid”.

“Nekane Txapartegi said shortly after the arrest that she had been tortured. However, the procedure has been delayed for several years then discontinued,” said Denise Graf, a lawyer and asylum expert at Amnesty Switzerland.

It must be assumed that the Spanish authorities have thereby infringed the European Convention on Human Rights, she added.

Amnesty said Txapartegi was arrested by the Spanish Guardia Civil Police in 1999 and was interrogated for five days while held without being able to communicate with other people. It said she was tortured and sexually abused, including having a plastic bag put over her head until she could no longer breathe, beaten, exposed to electric shocks, subjected to a mock execution and raped. Amnesty International said her allegations were credible and documented her case in their 1999 Annual Report.

ETA, which has killed more than 800 people over several decades and declared a permanent ceasefire six years ago, has been severely weakened in recent years after hundreds of its members, including its leader, were arrested and police seized several of its weapons stashes.

France’s Le Monde newspaper recently reported that ETA was set to announce plans to disarm and have scheduled a full handover of weapons for April 8. Several Basque political leaders said this was credible.

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