T HERE has been widespread condemnation of the arrest of a former West Belfast man in the Basque Country this week. The Belfast Basque Solidarity Committee have called for the immediate release of Arturo Villanueva.
Mr Villanueva was arrested by police as he left his home around lunchtime on Monday.
Spokesperson for the committee, Daithí Ó Cinnéide, said: “The arrest of Arturo Villanueva in the town of Urruña in the Northern part of the Basque Country is to be condemned.
“Arturo, known locally to his friends in Belfast as Beñat, was living on the Falls Road for many years while leading an open life.
“During that time he played a prominent and positive part in the local community and was an active member of the Belfast Basque Solidarity Committee. It is our belief that this arrest is on the basis of a European Arrest Warrant issued by the Spanish authorities, one which Arturo successfully defeated in the Belfast Court.”
The warrant related to membership of Jarrai, a youth organisation in the Basque Country which the Spanish authorities banned along with other community, social and political organisations.
“Despite this, and the efforts being made in the Basque Country to establish a peace process, the Spanish authorities continue to hound and persecute him and other Basque political refugees.
“We are calling for Arturo’s immediate release and for an end to the politically motivated arrest policy being pursued by the Spanish government. It is high time the Spanish government grasped the opportunity to play a constructive role in the Basque peace process. To date they have signalled little interest in doing that.”
Speaking to the Andersonstown News last night, a friend of Beñat from Belfast, who was with him when he was arrested, said he was shocked.
“I’m surprised because he was living a very public life in the community where he was living and was made very welcome by that community.”