16 December 2009

Trial against Basque language newspaper Egunkaria begins.

On 3rd February 2003, the Spanish police ordered the definitive closure of Euskaldunon Egunkaria, the only daily newspaper published in the Basque language. 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.

They were held incommunicado for five days under the anti-terrorist law. Some of them were imprisoned and others later released. One of them, the newspaper’s director, told journalists at the prison gates he had been savagely tortured. His words and his shattered appearance shocked Basque society.

The operation was ordered by the Spanish National Court on the grounds that Egunkaria allegedly formed part of a wider group of businesses and organisations controlled by ETA – the old “all is ETA” motto.

Immediately after the closure hundreds of protests took place across the Basque Country, including what was probably the largest demonstration ever to take place in the country two days after the closure.

Nearly four years later on 15th December 2006, the National Court Prosecutor determined that there were no grounds for the case and requested a stay of proceedings.

Despite this, six months later a court hearing was officially announced.
In the hearing it was concluded that only five of those arrested would finally go to trial: Joan Mari Torrealdai, ex-President of the administrative council of Egunkaria; IƱaki Uria, ex-Managing Director; Txema Auzmendi, former Administrative Council Secretary; Martxelo Otamendi, ex-Director; and Xabier Oleaga, former deputy director.

The trial begun yesterday Tuesday 15th in Madrid, with the accused facing sentences of between 12 and 14 years in prison, in addition to a further 14 to 15-year ban from practicing journalism. For the last months many support events have been organised and the presence of the leaders of the majority of Basque political parties and trade unions and education, culture and language movements’ representatives at the gates of the Spanish National Court yesterday was proof of the broad support they have in Basque society.

The hearing began with the testimonies of the accused who stated the newspaper was created by the Basque language grass roots movement to fill the crucial vacuum of a newspaper written in the national language and without any intervention by ETA.

They also told the court how they had been subjected to torture while detained incommunicado but the judges ordered them not to talk about this.

Aside from the accusations that form the basis of Tuesday's trial, there are further charges of attempting to falsify accounts and defraud the Treasury, of which eight defendants stand accused.

They could face up to between 13 and 26 years in prison and possible fines of between 21 and 33 million euro. The date for this trial is yet to be announced.

More info: http://egunkaria.info/international/

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