11 February 2010

European MP's have called for the acquittal of Egunkaria Five

Twenty five members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have condemned in Strasbourg (France) the Egunkaria case, by signing a statement in favour of the daily. They have called for the acquittal of the five former members of Egunkaria´s Board of Directors –as they think that this is the only fair verdict possible–, the dropping of the financial court case and compensation of all the damage inflicted on all the defendants. In 2005, 22 MEPs called for the suspension of the closing down of the Egunkaria daily and requested that the rights of freedom of speech and information be respected.

The MEPs that signed the statement are representatives of four political groups: the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), the Group of the Greens-European Free Alliance (Greens-EFA), the Confederal Group of the European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL) and the Group of the European People’s Party. Some of them took part in a press conference today, together with Martxelo Otamendi, the former Editor-in -Chief of Egunkaria and one of the defendants. The following MEPs attended the conference: Izaskun Bilbao (ALDE), Ramon Tremosa (ALDE), Oriol Junqueras (Greens-EFA), François Alfonsi (Greens-EFA), Catherine Greze (Greens-EFA) and Raul Romeva (Greens-EFA). About 15 journalists attended the conference.

“The freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected”, they claimed in the statement. They also mentioned the torture claims made by some of the defendants. “We have to emphasize the report written in March 2004 by Theo van Boven, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. After visiting Spain to monitor the human rights situation in that country, he concluded that the torture claims made by the defendants in the Egunkaria case were consistent, and requested the Spanish Government to take measures to prevent torture”.

- Strong criticism of the Spanish State

The MEP Izaskun Bilbao (Basque Nationalist Party) said that the Egunkaria case is “baseless” and added that the honour of the defendants should be restored. “This case should never have happened”. Tremosa claimed that the closing down was a “violation of rights” and pointed out that the State that currently runs the European Union presidency [Spain] is one that closes down daily newspapers. “We must react strongly against it”, he said. The MEP Oriol Junqueras pointed out that the acquittal of the defendants is the only solution, as did the other MEPs. “The whole Spanish political class knows that the closing down of Egunkaria was undemocratic, but neither the Popular Party nor the Socialist Party have had the courage to condemn this offence which they backed at that time. It is shameful to close down a newspaper basing the decision on inconsistent accusations”.

Alfonsi criticized the position of the Spanish state. According to him, Spain has a problem with democracy: “It systematically violates the freedom of speech of the Basque people”. He cited the Law of Political Parties and the closing down of Egunkaria as examples of that.

Romeva gave Otamendi and the other defendants his full backing and asked the European Union to display “clearer coherence” on the defence of the rights. “It condemns offences that take place abroad, but it should take more notice of the situation inside the European Union”.

Otamendi briefly explained the case to the media: what Egunkaria was, what happened during the closing down, the torture complaints of many of the defendants, the support received from the Basque Country and many other countries; he said that acquittal is the only acceptable verdict for the defendants and that after that, they will ask for justice.

The trial in the closing down case of Egunkaria finished last 1 February and the defendants are waiting for the verdict. The Defence Counsel and the Public Prosecutor have called for their acquittal, but the Private Prosecution represented by the Association of Victims of Terrorism and Dignity and Justice has requested penalties of 12-14 years of prison.

- Many initiatives of support

When the trial in the Egunkaria process began, on December 15 2009, three members of the Greens-EFA group expressed their support of the defendants in a press statement: François Alfonsi, Catherine Grèze and José Bové. They stated that the Egunkaria case was “an insult to the Basque people and their culture”. Besides, they showed their full backing of the defendants.

On the other hand, on 18 January 2010, the MEP Izaskun Bilbao gave a minute-long speech in the European Parliament. She reminded the closing down of the daily, and the torture complaints; she pointed out that the Public Prosecutor had called for the case to be dropped and condemned the fact that the trial had started almost seven years after the closing down. She said that this case shows that serious mistakes are committed in Europe.

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