New ETA blast —as Basque free speech trial opens

On April 20 a bomb exploded outside the offices of Spain’s ruling Socialist party in the Basque town of Elgoibar (Guipúzcoa province), causing considerable damage but no injuries. Police said the blast followed a telephone warning in the name of the armed separatist group ETA. (AP, April 20) While the attack made some international headlines, there was little note that it came one day before a trial opened against 27 members of Basque pro-amnesty organizations on charges that they are ETA fronts. The 27, members of Askatasuna, Gestoras Pro-Amnistía, Behatokia and Senideak, refused to respond to questioning by the Spanish prosecutor. The case stems from an eight-year inquiry by Baltasar Garzón, Spain’s leading anti-terror investigator. (EiTB24, April 21)

Reporters Without Borders issued a call earlier this month for Spain to close judicial proceedings against the Basque-language newspaper Egunkaria, which have resulted in its remaining closed for the past five years because of its alleged links to ETA.

The newspaper was shut down by order of the Spanish high court on Feb. 20 2003, the same day that civil guards arrested 13 journalists and members of its board on suspicion of “the crime of belonging to or collaborating with the terrorist organisation ETA.” Judge Juan del Olmo also ordered the freezing its assets and closing its premises. He has renewed the measures every six months since July 2003.

“The alleged links between certain members of Egunkaria’s staff and ETA have never been demonstrated, despite five years of judicial investigation,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Spanish government’s fight against terrorism is legitimate but it must be done without violating free expression. We point out that Basque journalists are themselves been the victims of an ETA campaign of terror against the media and some of them have been forced to work with bodyguards or to leave the Basque country.”

The organization added: “We reiterate our concern about Egunkaria’s closure, as it deprives readers of their right to news and information, and we urge justice minister Mariano Fernandez Beremejo to allow the newspaper to reopen and to get the judicial authorities to conduct a trial very soon so that they can finally reach a decision on the substance of the charges.”

In addition to alleged links to ETA, Egunkaria is alleged tax fraud. The 13 publishers and editors charged in the case faces combined sentences of 30 to 40 years in prison and a fine of more than 30 million euros. They are charged with creating an “illegal association” and “belonging to a terrorist organization.” They all deny the charges, and are seeking to have them dropped. (RSF, April 3)

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