Maite Perez grew up in the old city of Bilbao, in Spain’s Basque Country, in the 1970s. It was a time when military police roamed the streets and the region’s language and culture were repressed in the name of a national Spanish identity. It was also a time when Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or ETA, the armed separatist group formed two decades earlier to fight against Francisco Franco’s dictatorship for an independent Basque state, had enormous support in parts of the Basque Country.
Perez would later join ETA, forming part of a cell called Orbaizeta. She died in 1987 when a car bomb that she was installing exploded. Local news at the time speculated that the bomb, which blew up part of a parking lot next to the central river in San Sebastian, was intended to kill Spanish National Police officers. Her death, celebrated by some and mourned by others, has come to represent two sides of a conflict that still rocks the Basque Country today.
It was to mark the 25th anniversary of her death that six Basque activists published an homage to Maite Perez in 2012 in the newspaper Gara, celebrating her resistance, thanking her for “taking her commitment to the extreme,” and writing that she was a moral compass for the Basque people. Julen Orbea, one of the authors, knew the article would get attention, but never thought he would be charged with terrorism over it. Now he’s about to go behind bars for two years, convicted for what amounts to thoughtcrime.