Page last updated at 19:15 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Spain to recognise civil war poet Miguel Hernandez

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Madrid

Drawing of Miguel Hernandez
Miguel Hernandez is ranked among Spain's finest poets

The Spanish government says it will formally recognise one of the country's best-known poets as a victim of the dictatorship of Gen Francisco Franco.

It will present the family of the poet, Miguel Hernandez, with an official letter rehabilitating his memory.

Hernandez was imprisoned as a traitor 70 years ago for supporting the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, and died in prison at the age of 31.

The family applied for his rehabilitation under a 2007 law.

The decision to rehabilitate him comes as Spain marks the centenary of the poet's birth with a series of events.

"We have always lived with this sadness, and finally we have cleansed his memory," the poet's daughter-in-law, Lucia Izquierdo, told the BBC.

"We wanted his image restored as a poet of the people, and a great man."

'Onion Lullaby'

The family applied for the rehabilitation under Spain's Historical Memory Law, passed in 2007 to recognise the victims on both sides of the Civil War, and during Franco's rule.

Republican forces lying in ambush in a village near Madrid during the Spanish Civil War
Hernandez never took up arms, but he staunchly supported Republican forces

According to Spain's justice ministry, 237 people had been recognised under the law out of 831 applications received up until October 2009, with 17 cases refused.

Ranked alongside Federico Garcia Lorca and others as one of Spain's finest poets, Miguel Hernandez was from a poor, peasant family.

A staunch Republican, many of his poems depict the horror of the Civil War.

He was arrested and imprisoned in 1940, when his family say he refused on principle to sign a confession and apology in return for permission to go into exile.

"He was never a traitor, he was always on the side of justice," Ms Izquierdo said. "It is frightening to think what they did to him."

"He never took up arms, but they were against him because he defended Spain with his pen," she added.

"His legacy is some of the most beautiful poetry we have. His unjust death deprived us of more."

Gen Franco commuted the death penalty against the poet to a 30-year sentence, but Hernandez died soon after when he contracted tuberculosis, which went untreated in harsh prison conditions.

Many of the poet's most moving works were written in prison, including the famous "Onion Lullaby".

He addressed that poem to his wife when he learned she and their child were surviving on nothing but onions.

The poet's family did not request compensation from the state for his treatment, as it could under the 2007 law - only his rehabilitation.

They are now preparing an appeal to the Supreme Court to get the original death sentence against him annulled and clear the last black mark against his name.

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