Europe, Headlines, Human Rights

POLITICS: Press Freedom Watchdog Calls on European Parliament to Condemn ETA

Brian Kenety

BRUSSELS, May 31 2001 (IPS) - The media and human rights watchdog group Reporters without Borders is calling on the European Parliament to pass a new resolution confirming the European Union’s “determination not to accept the campaign of terror in Spanish Basque country”.

The armed separatist organisation Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA) has killed eight persons so far this year, including journalists on the groups ‘black list’. José Luis López de Lacalle of the El Mundo daily’s regional edition was shot dead May 7 and Santiago Oleaga, financial director of the conservative newspaper Diario Vasco was killed on May 24.

The assassination of Oleaga was ETA’s first killing since its political ally, the Euskal Herritarok party, lost half its seats in elections to the regional parliament on May 13 – its worst ever showing.

The result amounted to a resounding victory for the moderate Basque National Party, the PNV, which won 33 seats in the 75- member Basque parliament – just five short of an absolute majority.

The death toll since ETA began its campaign against the Spanish state in 1968 has now reached 764.

Reporters without Borders president Fernando Castelló and secretary-general Robert Ménard, presenting the Paris-based watchdog’s new report Thursday, ‘Media professionals in ETA’s line of sight’, called on Euro-parliamentarians to send a mission to the Spanish Basque country as soon as possible to help find a resolution to the decades-old conflict.

The 12-page report notes that some 50 journalists and publication managers targeted by ETA as ‘Basque traitors’ or ‘Spanish invaders’ are currently under police or private escort in Basque country and Madrid.

The report says the number of casualties among media professionals is already high: in 2000 and 2001, two were shot dead by ETA, 10 narrowly escaped death in parcel bomb attacks aimed directly at them, eight bomb blasts damaged head-offices of newspapers, and many others face routine harassment and threats.

The pressure group has condemned ETA as one of 30 “predators of press freedom” worldwide. Arnaldo Otegi, leader of the group’s political representation in parliament, Euskal Herritarrok, has never denounced the murders, notes the report.

Of the murder of López de Lacalle, a Basque constitutionalist and anti-nationalist, Otegi is quoted in the report as saying: “ETA has affirmed and demonstrated that the media are the mouthpiece for a strategy of manipulation of news and instigation of war in Basque country”.

In the wake of López de Lacalle’s slaying, over 100 managing editors of Spain’s leading media were signatories to a manifesto read in public May 12 in San Sebastían entitled “They will not silence us”, though the report notes many journalists recognise a de facto “unconscious self-censorship” is in effect.

Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym, RSF, says that although attacks on the media by ETA and its supporters are nothing new, there has been an upsurge in violence since a truce was called in 1999 – and harassment has never stopped. ETA, which in addition to the media already targets politicians, judges, academics, police and members of the armed forces, has now reportedly also added the security guards who protect them to its target list.

In March, some 2,000 members of the youth organisation Jarrai, close to ETA, plastered leaflets with the names of 30 journalists and 20 media considered by them to be “slaves of the state”. The following month, French police arrested Julia Moreno Macuso, a presumed ETA member, who was carrying a similar list of journalists and editors targeted by ETA.

In this context, says the report, numerous media are under threat, in Madrid and Basque country alike, especially the newspapers Correo Espanol and Diario Vasco, as well as local editorial staff of the dailies El Pais and El Mundo. According to RSF estimates, over 100 journalists have some sort of protection, either from police in Basque country or private security forces.

“Through journalists or media professionals it is not only the Spanish state but the whole of Europe and its values on which ETA has declared war,” states the report.

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