There are times when the articles we read seem more like they came more from a brochure writer than a serious, responsible journalist.  Such is the case of the Ana Bela Ferreira article to be found in Portuguese magazine Sábado.  The article in question is “Cunhado do rei muda-se para prisão de luxo dos etarras” (The king’s brother-in-law moves to the luxury ETA-member prison), referring to Zaballa Prison in Araba.  The inaccuracy of the author, and her creativity, not only make any semblance to reality pure coincidence, it gives the impression that the mistakes are indeed willful disinformation.

Before getting down to the matter, as we are wont to do, let’s make a few things clear: we do not agree with the institution of the monarchy; we find Iñaki Urdangarin’s actions in no way acceptable; and all that was achieved with the ETA’s terrorist violence was pain and death, along with placing some of the worst obstacles to improving the international image of the Cause of the Basque People, which they said they were trying to defend.

Having said that, to avoid any possible misinterpretations, let’s begin by reviewing the article, starting with the headline, which labels the Araba prison of Zaballa * as “a luxury prison for ETA members.”  The question we ask ourselves is: How many ETA members have been jailed there since it opened in 2011?

To be labeled as an “ETA prison”, a significant part of the group’s members must have occupied the 720 double cells that make up this macro-penitentiary.  And that never happened, as the prison was designed and built during the years when the official policy was to spread ETA prisoners throughout the state.  If the journalist is unaware, that meant that ETA prisoners were isolated from other organization members, and they were sent as far away as possible from their place of origin.  While the former reason is rather easy to understand, the latter, maximum distancing, goes against all the principles that should guide sentencing, including education and social reintegration, and respect for a person’s dignity, without punishing the prisoner beyond the sentence imposed by the judge.

So, if Ana Bela Ferreira wasn’t aware, this scattering, closer to revenge than justice, is a 30-year-old practice, and was set in motion by PSOE minister Enrique Múgica during the times of Prime Minister González.  Thus, it would be quite difficult to call this prison “for ETA members.”

But she not only calls it an “ETA prison,” but also a “luxury prison.”  Apparently, this is because it has larger-than-customary cells (13 m³ or 140 sqft, 3 m³ or 33 sqft larger than normal); it has “modern” sports facilities (it would be interesting to see how a nine-year-old prison could have “old” equipment), including a heated pool; moreover, it has a video-conference room and a barber’s.  Also very luxurious are the bathroom, closet, table, and TV base.  In short, a five-star hotel for ETA members and monarchs’ brothers-in-law.

What Zaballa is is a 21st-century prison, rather than an 18th-century one.  And it must be designed to meet the requirements set out in the Spanish Constitution, as well as the rules of the European Union and those set out in international treaties: the education and reintegration of criminals, while respecting their human rights.

There are 30 prisons in Spain that have a pool, some of them heated.  Zaballa’s pool is covered, but we’re not sure it’s heated (they are totally different concepts).

We’re not sure what the concept of “luxury” the article’s author is working under, but it’s quite removed from ours.  And that idea does not include spending years in a 13-m³ cell with another prisoner, even if the common areas have a vending machine and we can get our hair cut on site.

Another worrying element, to put it lightly, is how the article seems to want the reader to get the impression that Zaballa and its “luxury facilities,” as well as the “semi-freedom” Urdangarin is going to enjoy, are the consequence of the “Basque prison system.”

As if prison policy, the application of sentences, decisions about degree of freedom, or the building and running themselves of prisons in any way depended on Basque institutions.  No, ma’am, that is not the case.  Speaking about how “O sistema basco é adepto da semi-liberdade para presos” (The Basque system supports the semi-freedom of prisoners) is displaying a huge amount of either ignorance or bad faith.  None of that depends on Basque institutions, nor are they in any way involved in any decisions there.

Nor is it up to Basque institutions to allow Urdangarin to enjoy so much semi-freedom.  Surely, it’s what is coming to him.  However, while that’s happening (or while torturers are pardoned), there are ETA members who are still in prison who, given their age, or years jailed, or health, should be entitled to the same degree of semi-freedom, or indeed full freedom.  Again, the fact that they’re not shows that in certain cases, the punishments are closer to vengeance than justice.

If the author of the article wants to talk about the Spanish prison system, it’d give her a ton to research, especially about the different standards applied to different prisoners and what their crimes were.

We would also recommend she not use “ABC” and “El Español” as reliable sources, but in many cases, they’re not that trustworthy, as too many of their news articles are really just op-ed pieces.

We’ll leave you with the article in the Portuguese magazine.  To read it fully requires registration, which is free.

Sábado –  25/2/2021 – Portugal

Cunhado do rei muda-se para prisão de luxo dos etarras

Iñaki Urdangarin vai cumprir a outra metade da pena perto da mãe, no País Basco. Todos os dias vai sair para trabalhar e aos fins de semana vai a casa.

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*It’s worth having a look at the history of the jail Zaballa replaced, Nanclares de Oca.