Political Prisoner Detained in Montreal

Posted by admin on Apr 16th, 2008

Update from the Freedom for Ivan Committee

Thursday, 17 April, is political prisoner’s day. In Montreal, Ivan Apaolaza Sancho – a 36 year old Basque refugee claimant and political prisoner – has been in detention for over ten months. Ivan is accused of having been a member of the ETA (an armed nationalist Basque organization); an accusation that he denies. He has been detained at Rivière des prairies Detention Centre since June 2007 and faces deportation solely on the basis of accusations made by the Spanish state; no actual evidence to support the allegations has been presented. Moreover, the allegations themselves seem to come from a confession obtained under torture (see below). If the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) Commissioner accepts
those allegations, Ivan faces deportation to Spain where he expects further arbitrary detention and possible torture.

Ivan is one of hundreds of Basque political prisoners, held at the behest of the Spanish state, often with the complicity of other states like Canada. For centuries, the Spanish state has inflicted intense and cruel repression on the Basque left-sovereignist movement (which enjoys broad support in Basque society). Today, following in Franco’s footsteps, the state continues to use political repression as it attempts to dismantle the Basque movement’s base of social support. Of the 18,721 people arrested in Basque country for political reasons between 1977 and 2002, 9200 people served jail time, 5300 people reported having been tortured, and 9 people were murdered during police interrogations.

On 24 March, the newly formed Freedom for Ivan committee organized a press conference in Montreal to publish evidence indicating that all of the allegations against Ivan originate from the “confession” a Basque woman made under torture while she was held incommunicado by Spanish police. Ivan’s committee and lawyers called on Stockwell Day to immediately release Ivan and cease Canadian complicity in torture.

The following day, Ivan’s lawyers argued in an IRB hearing that the case against Ivan should be thrown out for lack of evidence and because there are reasonable grounds to believe that the allegations are based on information obtained under torture, which is inadmissable under Canadian law. French legal expert Didier Rouget testified that Canada could also be breaking international law if it deported Ivan on that basis. The hearing will resume on 25 April.

In the meantime, Ivan underwent another routine detention review. Just two days before Political Prisoner day, the IRB Commissioner had another opportunity to cease participating in torture and repression – but refused.

PRESS RELEASE: “Canada is detaining a Basque refugee on the basis of information obtained under torture”

“Ivan Apaolaza Sancho, a refugee claimant of Basque origin, has been detained at the Rivière-des-Prairies prison since June 2007 and currently faces deportation proceedings, and all of this solely on the basis of allegations by the Spanish government. In spite of the numerous requests made by Mr. Apaolaza Sancho’s lawyers, no evidence has been filed to support these allegations. Moreover, it seems that the accusations put forth by the Spanish government are based entirely on declarations made by a woman who was being held ‘incommunicado’ in Spain at the time.

In fear of being unjustly criminalized, imprisoned and tortured by the Spanish authorities, as many of his compatriots have been, M. Apaolaza Sancho left the Basque country in 1997 after completing university. He came to Canada in 2001 under a false name-for fear of being unjustly targeted and sent back to torture and imprisonment in Spain.

In June 2007, M. Apaolaza Sancho was arrested by the RCMP on the basis of allegations from the Spanish government, which claim that Mr Apaolaza Sancho had « participated in terrorist activities » and that he is a member of the ETA.

Mr. Apaolaza Sancho denies these accusations.

« Ivan claimed refugee status in Canada. Currently, the claim for refugee status is suspended, pending the current Inadmissibility Hearing being prosecuted by the Canada Border Services Agency, who allege that he is a member of the ETA. However, all the government has is the allegations of the Spanish authorities. The content of these allegations is identical to the content of a declaration made under torture by a Basque activist who recanted the declaration as soon as she was brought before a judge, » states Maître William Sloan, Mr. Apaolaza Sancho’s lawyer.

The extraction of declarations under torture, a common practice of the Spanish authorities, has been denounced by numerous international human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, and it contravenes the Convention Against Torture, to which Canada is a signatory. « The conditions of detention for Basque political prisoners are abominable. The Spanish anti-terrorist law allows a period of incommunicado detention that can range from 5 to 13 days. During this period, detainees have no contact with their family, their lawyers or a doctor. Many prisoners are forced to sign false declarations, obtained under torture, during this period, » explains Didier Rouget, jurist and expert on the situation in the Basque Country.

Threatened with deportation, M. Apaolaza Sancho does not, moreover, benefit from the same judicial mechanisms that have been put in place to protect the fundamental rights of Canadian citizens. “The Canadian authorities cannot order the deportation of Mr. Ivan Apaolaza Sancho without ensuring that his legal rights are fully respected, as such rights are the foundation of the rule of law. This requires that he be able to know the evidence underlying the allegations against him and that his case be heard before an appropriate judicial authority in Canada,” states Nicole Filion, of the Quebec Civil Liberties Union (La Ligue des droits et libertés du Québec).


–> The Freedom for Ivan Sancho committee demands:

1- An immediate release of Ivan from detention and immediate freedom for all political prisoners.
2- A stop to Ivan’s deportation and an end to Canadian complicity in the use of torture.
3- Refugee status for Ivan and an end to the two-tiered justice system for non-citizens in Canada.

–> Open letter by Ivan Sancho

My name is Ivan Apaolaza Sancho, I am a graduate in sociology and my nationality is Basque. I have been detained at the Rivières-des-Prairies detention centre in Montreal since June 29th 2007 on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by the Spanish state (and with the help of Immigration Canada). This is a Spanish state that during all of my deportation proceedings has presented no evidence whatsoever against me, only accusations—accusation which I deny, a state that seeks my deportation based on the principle that accusations are evidence, and on an conception of justice founded not on the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty but rather than one is guilty until innocence is proven.

In December of 2007, my lawyers filed a motion seeking the dismissal of the deportation proceedings against me in light of the total absence of evidence presented. Although the commissioner presiding over my case had initially agreed to do so, he refused to even rule on the motion after having received our arguments and those of the Minister.

If I am deported, I will be placed in the hands of the Spanish police or of the Civil Guard, both being forces with a sad record of torture, torture which has been denounced each year (including 2007) by Amnesty International, and which has been decried by the UN Special Rapporteur. For example, last week a young Basque named Igor Porto found himself in the intensive care until of the San Sebastien hospital with several broken ribs and a punctured lung after having passed through the hands of the Civil Guard.

The Spanish judicial system permits incommunicado detention in police custody for five days, without the right to a lawyer, to a trustworthy doctor or to communication with one’s family. The Anti-Terrorist Law that permits such detention clearly violates basic principles of international human rights law and has been denounced by the majority of parties and social movements in the Basque country.

The U.S. has its infamous PATRIOT Act, and in Spain there is the Anti-Terrorist Law and the Political Parties Law. These laws have permitted the closure of newspapers, the banning of political parties and the imprisonment of persons for the simple reason that that are Basque and pro-independence—laws which make you a member of the ETA when you don’t even know you’re a member, laws which allowed a judge to justify the closure of EGIN (the newspaper with the second largest circulation in the Basque country) by stating that “there is no lack of evidence to justice the shutdown of EGIN, all you have to do is read it”, laws which transform pro-independence Basques directly into terrorists, where people are not judged for their unlawful acts but for their ideas.

In response to this situation, the city council of my home town has passed resolutions asking Canada to grant me political asylum and to liberate me, and my neighbours in the Basque country have already gathered over 2,000 signatures on a petition with the same demands.

I will also take advantage of this opportunity to denounce the conditions that were imposed on my here in Rivières-des-Prairies. For six months, I was in the most restriction section of the prison, without the right to participate in any activities. I had only one hour a day in the courtyard, no gym, no studies, nothing. This is a regime where calling my family in the Basque country was a privilege not a right, where I was not permitted to embrace my family who had come to visit me all the way from the Basque country, and where it still takes two months for my mail to come through.

I have lived in Canada and in Quebec for almost seven years without having any problems, working as a carpenter. It’s true that I assumed another name in order to work and to live, but I did so out of fear of exactly what is happening to me now. Fully aware of what happened to Gorka Salazar Perea and Eduardo Plagaro Perez de Arrilucea, who were extradited to Spain in 2005 and who are still in prison for crimes they did not commit, I did not want to become another Basque political prisoner in Canada. That is what I am today.

All I ask is to be able to stay here, to live peacefully, without fear of reprisals from the Spanish government because I am Basque and pro-independence.

Centre de Détention Rivière-des-Prairies
March 2008 — MONTREAL


At this point, Ivan and his supporters are asking organizations to:

1) Endorse the campaign demands (above).

2) Write a statement of support for Ivan in which we also encourage you to speak to the larger political issues behind his situation (Ivan would like this campaign to be explicitly political and to clearly denounce the actions of the Spanish authorities).

3) Write and if possible gather letters of support from individuals and organizations for the purpose of pressuring the Minister of Immigration and Minister of Public Safety to agree to our demands. (Letter writing guide available: email us at libertepourivan@gmail.com.)

4) Write letters to Ivan (email us for contact info).

5) Spread information about Ivan’s case to your networks.

6) If you are in Montreal, get involved in Ivan’s support committee!

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