Egunkaria (Basque for The Daily) was for thirteen years the only fully Basque language newspaper in circulation until it was closed down on 20 February 2003 by the Spanish authorities due to allegations of an illegal association with ETA, the armed Basque separatist group. After seven years, on 15 April 2010 the defendants were acquitted on all charges related to ties to ETA. The issue of damages for the closure of the newspaper (which no longer operates) remains open, as well as the alleged torture of the members of the newspaper's executive board during detention.
History and profile
Egunkaria was established in 1990 as the only Basque-language daily newspaper in the Basque Country (there had already been bilingual newspaper and monolingual weeklies). The promoters expected at the moment of first coming out in 1990 was to reach a circulation of 8,000 to 15,000 copies and 40,000 potential readers, a goal later achieved when being released, growing a widely respected publication as well as a meeting point for the Basque speaking community; the newspaper was also known for its nationalistic leanings.
On 20 February 2003, the Spanish Civil Guard on orders from Juan del Olmo — a Spanish judge in the Audiencia Nacional — raided the newspaper's offices, seized documents and computers, and froze the newspaper's assets. In addition, ten individuals who were or had been members of staff were arrested in dawn raids and held.
In December 2004, Iñaki Uria, Joan Mari Torrealdai, Txema Auzmendi, Xabier Alegria, Pello Zubira, Xabier Oleaga, and Martxelo Otamendi were arrested for forming an "illegal association" at the time of Egunkaria's establishment, and for "membership of, or collaboration with, ETA". All were later cleared of all charges, and released. The newspaper was also effectively forced into liquidation as its assets were sold off by court-appointed administrators, meaning that regardless of the outcome of the case, Egunkaria had ceased to exist. On account of the irregularities and a breach of guarantees for the defendants, all decisions made since April 2007 related to the economic proceedings have been overturned. A similar accusation had closed the bilingual (Spanish-Basque) nationalist leftist newspaper Egin whose niche was occupied by Gara.
The closure of Egunkaria resulted in grass-roots indignation, with widespread criticism coming from different circles (Basque regional government, reputed writers, etc.) towards the Spanish authorities. The writer Salman Rushdie denounced the closure as "appalling", and the English newspaper The Independent made a small but symbolic financial donation towards the opening of the new Basque language publication, Berria.
Final verdict: there was no grounds to close the newspaper
In 2010, the final and unanimous sentence by the Criminal Court of the Audiencia Nacional states that there was no grounds to have the newspaper closed. The sentence confirms that "the narrow and erroneous view according to which everything that has to do with the Basque language and with culture in that language is promoted and/or controlled by ETA leads to an incorrect assessment of facts and figures, and to the inconsistency of the accusation." It goes on to note that the closure was an "interference with press freedom". Finally, the sentence declares that "the allegations have not proven that the defendants have the slightest relation with ETA, and this determines in itself the acquittal with all pronouncements favorable to the defendants."
Notwithstanding the 2010 sentence, no responsibilities have been cleared by 2014 for having a newspaper closed on no grounds during seven years.
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- James Graff (9 March 2003). "Blaming the messenger". Time Magazine. Retrieved 16 April 2009.
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- Elizabeth Nash (27 February 2003). "Police tortured me, Basque editor claims". The Independent (London). Retrieved 16 April 2009.
- "Exdirector de Egunkaria denuncia la situación de encarcelamiento que aún vive el consejero delegado del periódico clausurado por justicia española". Noticiasdot. Retrieved 16 April 2009. Article in Spanish
- The whole sentence of Audiencia Nacional in the Egunkaria case, 12 April 2010.
- Martxelo Otamendi's allegations of torture
- Freedom of expression group ARTICLE 19's criticisms
- Basque newspaper Berria covers Salman Rushdie's participation
- Juicio a Egunkaria - Spanish language blog on the trial to the Basque newspaper by L. Fernández, one of its journalists.
- Egunkaria International - English, French and Spanish language webpage about the case.
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