4 February 2010 Edition
Staff of banned Basque newspaper on trial
The ongoing trial of five people who were involved in publishing the Basque-language newspaper Egunkaria, which was shut down by the Spanish government in 2003, is an outrageous attack on the basic civil rights of the Basque people, a campaign leader has told meetings in Ireland.
Ainara Mendiola, the co-ordinator of the International Campaign in Favour of Egunkaria, visited Ireland to participate in the Bloody Sunday march in Derry, and spoke to audiences in colleges and community centres in Dublin, Belfast and Derry.
Spokesperson for the Belfast Basque Solidarity Committee, Kevin Morrison, said the case was an example of the Spanish government’s strategy, since 1998 of criminalising media outlets, political, social, labour and cultural organisations in favour of promoting Basque self-determination.
The central thesis of this criminalisation campaign, as formulated by Judge Baltasar Garzon, who has led the attacks on the Basque nationalist movement, is that “everything that surrounds ETA is ETA”. That is, any group or individual that shares ETA’s general goal of Basque independence, regardless of what methods they use, is part of ETA, according to the Spanish authorities.
Morrison said: “What is even more worrying is that a number of those accused were arrested and have since spoken publicly of experiencing torture at the hands of the Spanish police while they were held in incommunicado pre-trial detention for five days under the Spanish ‘anti-terror’ laws.”
Within two days of the newspaper’s closure, 100,000 people took to the streets in one of the largest demonstrations ever held in the Basque Country.
Following the release of the detainees in 2003, the images of shattered newspaper editor Martxelo Otamendi, who described being tortured, shocked Basque society.
Mendiola explained that in the case of Egunkaria, the paper was not allied to any particular party, group or movement – its only crime was that it was, at the time, the only daily newspaper written exclusively in Euskera (the Basque language).
“In February 2003, the Spanish police ordered the definitive closure of Egunkaria, claiming that it had links to ETA. This was followed by the arrest of ten people. All of them were well known and respected Basque language and culture activists, journalists and writers. One of them is a Jesuit brother,” Mendiola said.
“Of the ten originally arrested, Egunkaria editorial board members Joan Mari Torrealdai, Iñaki Uria, Martxelo Otamendi, Txema Auzmendi and Xabier Oleaga had been indicted on charges of being ETA members and their trial is in its final stages, with the verdict due very shortly.”
Mendiola said that there had been no evidence submitted by the Guardia Civil police force, which had compiled the so-called incriminating documents linking the newspaper to ETA, during the trial. Former ETA members – called by the prosecution – testified that there were no such links.
Since 2006, the public prosecutor has urged that the case be dropped due to lack of evidence. Yet the political court, the Audiencia Nacional in Madrid, has insisted on proceeding.
The public prosecutor confirmed on Monday 1 February, as the trial of the five entered its final phase, that it “could not be proved” that ETA “was behind” Egunkaria and again recommended that the charges be dropped.
To find out more or support the campaign visit egunkaria.info