Spain/Euskadi: Three years on from the closure of Egunkaria newspaper (1)

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A dossier has been drawn up by the Egunkaria Support Group to detail developments that have taken place since what was the only newspaper written entirely in Basque (Euskera) at the time, was shut down by the Guardia Civil (Spain's paramilitary police force) on 20 February 2003, on orders from investigating magistrate Juan del Olmo of the Audiencia Nacional (a Madrid-based court which has exclusive competence for trying cases involving terrorist offences).

Ten members of the newspaper's staff were arrested, including the editor-in-chief Martxelo Otamendi, and seven face charges that may result in sentences of between one and fourteen years in prison for "forming an illegal organisation". Del Olmo considers that the setting up and the development of the Euskaldon Egunkaria project was part of "one of ETA's long term strategies", whereas defendants argue that all the judge does is to amass elements of suspicion rather than delivering any evidence against them.

The investigation and charges resulted in the closing down of the newspaper, the freezing and investigation of the suspects' assets, and four defendants also alleged that they were tortured in custody, with Otamendi claiming that a gun was pointed to his head, that a plastic bag was placed over his head, and that he was forced to strip, get down on all fours and crouch and stand repeatedly. This resulted in counter-charges being brought against them by the Interior Minister (headed by Ángel Acebes at the time) for presenting "false" reports of torture, for "slander" against the Guardia Civil and, in line with the government's policy at the time, for "collaborating with the terrorist group [ETA]" through the presentation of false torture claims.

Three years on, on 23 February 2006, the 2nd Chamber of the Audiencia Nacional has confirmed the "provisional" charges and authorised the pre-trial proceedings to continue, rejecting the appeals filed by defence lawyers to drop the case in a writ in which the cases of the different defendants are treated jointly, that states that there is "clear evidence of crime". The dossier compiled by the Support Group includes appeals issued by Amnesty International in the aftermath of the closure in 2003, calling for a "prompt and thorough judicial investigation into the closure", and by the PEN Club at its 71st International Congress held in Slovenia on 14-21 June 2005, expressing concern over press freedom in relation to the Egunkaria case and others in which media outlets were closed down on suspicion of cooperation with ETA (Egin newspaper, Egin Irratia radio station and Ardi Beltza weekly magazine), calling for the Spanish government to summon an "impartial and international board of inquiry to investigate these cases", urging it to "stay the proceedings" in the Egin and Egunkaria cases or to speed them up, as well as to "guarantee a fair trial and the freedom of the press and of expression".

Dossier "Three years without Egunkaria", 10 pages, February 2006; (English, pdf) (Spanish, pdf)
Also available in Euskera and Catalan from the Egunkaria website: ;
News of the decision by the 2nd Chamber of the Audiencia Nacional, 24.2.06

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