The New York Times 2003

Spain Shuts a Basque Newspaper, Accusing It of Aiding Separatists


By EMMA DALY / Published: Friday, February 21, 2003


The Spanish police ordered a Basque-language newspaper to shut down today and arrested 10 members of its staff, including the editor, accusing them of helping the violent separatist group E.T.A. in its campaign for an independent Basque country.


The dawn arrests — carried out by 300 officers — and the closing of Euskaldunon Egunkaria, the only Spanish newspaper printed solely in Euskara, the Basque language, was part of a new government crackdown on E.T.A. and its supporters.


On Wednesday, the police detained 14 people accused of belonging to E.T.A., whose initials stand for Basque Homeland and Freedom in Euskara. On Tuesday, 10 youths were arrested and accused of taking part in the separatists’ campaign of street violence.


The search warrants authorized by Judge Juan del Olmo accused the newspaper and its owners of ”membership of the terrorist organization or collaboration with the terrorist organization E.T.A.” It also said that E.T.A. ”was involved in creating and invigorating Euskaldunon Egunkaria and in naming executives” for the newspaper as well as in financing it.


The accusations were strongly denied by the paper’s deputy editor, Xabier Lekuona, who was not among those detained.


”There is absolutely no truth to this,” he said in a telephone interview. ”The paper is subsidized by the Basque government and we are audited by them every year. These are public accounts. There is no basis to the allegation that we are laundering money for E.T.A.”


He said that many of those detained were respected members of the Basque news media and that the last big interview the paper carried was with Fernando Savater, a leading opponent of E.T.A. and of Basque separatism.


”From the beginning we have defended our editorial independence,” Mr. Lekuona said. ”Our aim has never been to support a political line but to publish in Euskara.”


But the justice minister, José María Michavila, hailed this ”new operation against E.T.A.” He told state radio that ”this time it is directed at those who, according to the judge, are instruments of E.T.A. and alert the terrorists each time there is an operation against a terrorist cell.”


Egunkaria’s editor, Martxelo Otamendi, was accused of ”incitement to murder” last year after publishing an interview with E.T.A. members. Prosecutors linked the interview, published on June 6, 2001, to the killing of José Javier Múgica, a member of a local council, by E.T.A. in July.


But moderate nationalists were swift to defend Egunkaria.


Markel Olano of the Basque Nationalist Party, which runs the regional government and has provided almost $8 million in subsidies for the newspaper, described the operation as ”an attack not only on Basque-language media but against the language itself and even Basque society.”


The interior minister, Ángel Acebes, rejected such criticism, saying, ”Those who say that this operation attacks freedom of expression and the Basque language are wrong because it actually defends the Basques’ rights and freedoms.”


The daily’s staff of 150, who have received offers of help from most other Basque newspapers, plan to fight back by publishing a paper on Friday. ”Our weapons have always been our words but today they used weapons to silence our words,” Mr Lekuona said. ”Our response will be to get the paper out on the streets tomorrow.”