Monday, March 13, 2006
Press suppression in Spain
Statewatch, a British organization that monitors the decline of civil liberties in the European Union, calls attention to recent developments in the case of Euskaldunon Egunkaria, the only Basque newspaper at the time of its closure on February 20, 2003. The newspaper was closed—
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.
All assets of the paper were quickly liquidated.
Four defendants, including the editor-in-chief, said they were tortured while in custody—
Otamendi claim[ed] 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.
The men made these allegations upon their release, and the Spanish government responded quickly—
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.
Perhaps the Spanish authorities showed Bush and Rumsfeld how to deal with the Amnesty International report on Guantánamo last May. They simply dismissed the allegations of torture by saying that the detainees had been trained to lie.
Upon the third anniversary of the arrests, the Spanish court has now taken further steps—
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 Cultural Association in support of Egunkaria has also released a report [pdf] to coincide with the anniversary that gives a chronology and the statements of support from Amnesty International and the International Pen Club.
Why isn't the press defending freedom of the press? (6/16/04)
Allawi stands up for freedom of the press — Yeah, sure (7/19/04)
The Indymedia seizure and the media (10/12/04)
Polish editor fined over Polish Pope jokes (1/26/05)