Attacks on the Press 2000: Spain

PRESS FREEDOM IS GENERALLY RESPECTED IN SPAIN, and CPJ does not routinely monitor conditions in the country. However, a series of attacks on journalists by the Basque separatist group ETA, including the murder of a prominent columnist from the Madrid daily El Mundo, greatly alarmed journalists during 2000, forcing many to leave the Basque region and others to hire full-time bodyguards.

José Luis López de Lacalle, 62, was shot four times in the head and stomach on May 7 in the Basque town of Andoain as he hurried home through the rain, covering his head with the Sunday newspapers. López de Lacalle, a retired attorney who was jailed for his leftist activities during the Franco dictatorship, wrote for the Basque edition of El Mundo. In his columns, he accused the

ETA of using the same kind of terror tactics employed by Franco. Despite death threats and the fire bombing of his home in February, he had refused a bodyguard.

While López de Lacalle’s murder sparked widespread outrage, the ETA did not back down from its terror campaign against journalists, which seemingly began in March and April. Editors at several papers in Madrid and the Basque capital of San Sebastián were sent letter bombs or received bomb threats. In March, Carlos Herrera, a talk show host on the national RNE network who lived in the southern city of Seville, received a box of cigars that purported to be from members of his fan club. A security guard stopped him from opening the box, which contained a half-pound of dynamite. The same month, a Basque youth group hung posters that named 30 journalists as “slaves of the state.”

Journalists were also included on a list of ETA targets found by Spanish police during an October raid on an ETA safe house in Bilbao.

In November, journalists Aurora Intxausti and Juan Palomo (Intxausti’s husband) were nearly killed as they were leaving their home in San Sebastián to take their 18-month-old son to day care. A bomb that had been rigged to detonate when they opened their door failed to explode. The attack rattled the Spanish press because Palomo, a reporter with the private television network Antena 3, and Intxausti, a correspondent with the Madrid daily El País, were beat reporters who had never been known as critics of the ETA.

Only days before the failed bomb attack, a video circulated by a pro-ETA magazine called Ardi Beltsa (“Black Sheep”) attacked dozens of journalists, including Intxausti, for misrepresenting the Basque region. State prosecutors summoned the magazine’s editor, Pepe Rei, for questioning on possible charges of collaborating with terrorists or incitement to murder. Rei’s previous magazine, Egin, was closed down in 1998 by Judge Baltasar Garzón, who gained international fame in 1999 when his court charged former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet with torture and genocide.

Garzón claimed Egin had aided the ETA by raising money for the group, providing information that ETA used to collect so-called war taxes, and by printing coded messages that allowed ETA leaders to communicate with field commanders. Still, some newspapers, including the Madrid daily El Mundo, described Egin’s closure as a threat to press freedom.

Many threatened journalists have left the Basque country for jobs in Madrid or abroad. Others now publish without bylines. Some of those who have stayed and continued to report have bodyguards. Concerned by the escalating violence, the Paris-based press freedom organization Reporters sans Frontières issued a special report in June, which concluded that “working conditions in the Basque country…have become unbearable.” In November, an international group of 63 prominent writers and editors published an open letter in El País expressing their support for Spanish journalists working under death threats and intimidation.

ETA has been fighting a 30-year campaign for an independent Basque homeland. After Franco’s death, however, Spain’s socialist government granted the Basque region substantial autonomy while cracking down on members of the separatist group. In recent years, there have been protests throughout Spain repudiating the ETA’s violent tactics. At the same time, it has been weakened militarily by the hard-line policies of Spain’s conservative prime minister, José María Aznar.

In December 1999, the ETA ended a 14-month ceasefire and renewed its terror campaign. Some commentators have described the latest strategy as the final gambit of an organization that is isolated politically and weak militarily. Rather than attacking Spanish security forces, the ETA now appears to be targeting politicians and journalists in a strategy seemingly intended to produce maximum outrage.

“The purpose of the attacks is to stop critical reporting on the ETA,” said Carmen Gurruchaga, a journalist with El Mundo who left the Basque country after she found a bomb on her doorstep in 1997. “But it is an attack against all of Spanish society. Everyone is afraid.”

José Luis López de Lacalle, El Mundo

López de Lacalle, a regular contributor to the Basque edition of the Madrid-based daily El Mundo, was shot dead outside his home in Andoain. Though no arrests were made, Interior Ministry officials attributed the crime to the Basque separatist group ETA.

López de Lacalle, 62, was an outspoken critic of ETA’s violent campaign for independence, and had received death threats from the group in the past.

His killing came several weeks after two Spanish journalists received letter bombs, which were safely disarmed by the police, and another bomb exploded at the home of a third journalist. Officials blamed ETA for all the attacks.