Basque daily closed over alleged ETA links

February 23, 2003Euskaldunon Egunkaria, a Basque daily based in the northern Spanish town of Andaoin, was closed by government authorities on Thursday, February 20, because of alleged links to the armed separatist group ETA.

The paper reappeared on newsstands the next day under the new name Egunkaria.

Hundreds of Civil Guard police officers raided the offices of Euskaldunon Egunkaria and the homes of its senior staff throughout the Basque region of northern Spain last Thursday after a court ordered the paper’s closure.

Spanish National Radio 1 reported last week that a report from the Civil Guard concluded that ETA finances the newspaper and uses it to launder money obtained from extortion and kidnapping. Authorities also accuse the newspaper of assisting ETA by issuing coded messages in its pages alerting operatives when police had detained one of their commando groups, The Associated Press reported.

Editor-in-chief Marcelo Otamendi and nine executives of the Egunkaria S.A. company, which publishes the daily, were arrested during the raids on charges of supporting ETA. Police also seized documents and computer equipment and shut down the daily’s Web site before boarding up the offices.

The remaining staff published a 16-page edition on Friday under the name Egunkaria that covered the previous day’s raid. The Basque-language headline read “Closed but not silenced.”

“Closing a newspaper is a drastic measure, and it is incumbent that the Spanish government justify its actions by making the evidence against Euskaldunon Egunkaria public,” said CPJ acting director Joel Simon.

On Saturday, February 22, tens of thousands of protestors, including three ministers from the Basque regional government, marched in the northern city of San Sebastian to oppose the newspaper’s closure.

The raid on Euskaldunon Egunkaria was part of a recent Spanish government effort to broaden its crack down on Basque separatism. In Andaoin, where the newspaper is based, members of ETA allegedly shot and killed a local police chief on February 8, The Associated Press reported.

In the past, Spanish authorities have made similar allegations against other pro-ETA media outlets. The government accused the Basque-language newspaper Egin of supporting ETA in 1998 and closed the publication without charging any staff.

But ETA, which has been fighting a 30-year-old campaign for an independent Basque homeland, has targeted journalists and the media in the Basque region. In May 2000, a 62-year-old columnist for the Basque edition of the Madrid daily El Mundo, Jose Luis Lopez de Lacalle, was shot four times in the head and stomach in Andoain after criticizing ETA in his columns.