Reporters Without Borders calls on the court that is trying five journalists who ran the Basque-language daily Euskaldunon Egunkaria to acquit of them all charges of links to the Basque armed separatist group ETA.
The trial is finally being held seven years after Spanish civil guards raided the newspaper on 20 February 2003 and arrested a total of 13 journalists and members of its board on suspicion of “the crime of belonging to or collaborating with the terrorist organisation ETA.”
The raid was the result of a decision by national court judge Juan del Olmo to close the newspaper’s premises, freeze its assets and suspend its activities on the alleged grounds that it pursued the same goals as ETA and helped it by creating front companies. Del Olmo has renewed the measures every six months since July 2003.
In the seven years since the case was opened, the police and judicial authorities have been unable to prove the alleged links between ETA and senior members of Egunkaria’s staff. The lack of evidence is such that this week the prosecutors themselves asked the court to acquit the defendants.
“We urge the judge to take the decision to acquit and to allow Egunkaria to reopen immediately,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We also urge the Spanish authorities not to appeal against an acquittal. Such a step would contribute absolutely nothing further to this case.
“The efforts by the Spanish authorities to combat terrorism are entirely legitimate. Journalists themselves continue to be the victims of the terror campaign that ETA wages against the media. Some have to have bodyguards. Others have had to flee the Basque Country. But terrorism charges and the sanctions that accompany them cannot be brought lightly and they must not result in readers being deprived of the right to news and information.
“It is unacceptable that a daily newspaper has been closed and censored for seven years without a court reaching a verdict on the case. The length of the judicial proceedings and the repeated adjournments year after year are unworthy of a European Union member country. As we have said in the past, Egunkaria could have been allowed to reopen pending the outcome of the proceedings.”