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About 50 journalists and managing editors are under police escort in Basque Country and Madrid; close to 100 have either official or private protection. Ten other journalists from Basque Country are in "exile" in Madrid and some media are multiplying their security measures. In both Basque Country and the rest of the country, journalists and the media who do not share the radical nationalist ideology are described as "Basque traitors" or "Spanish invaders" and are threatened by the independence army Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA). The campaign launched against them by ETA is increasingly violent.
The murder of José Luis López de Lacalle, a columnist and member of the regional editorial board of the daily El Mundo in Basque Country, followed a period of threats, warnings and publication of "black lists", and was one of a series of increasingly violent attacks against the media and journalists.
Arnaldo Otegi, leader of the political group Euskal Herritarrok (EH - "Basque people") which is considered to be ETA's legal showcase and has never denounced murders committed by the organisation, stated on 8 May that with López de Lacalle's murder, "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".
RSF sent a mission in Spanish Basque Country from 31 May to 2 June 2000. The delegation met leading journalists, trade unionists, media directors and political party leaders in Basque Country and was received by the Spanish government's interior minister and the Basque government's adviser for internal affairs.
Spanish Basque Country (Euskadi or Euskera in Basque), which has had the status of an autonomous community since 1979, covers three Spanish provinces (Guipúzcoa, Vizcaya and ¡lava). It borders with French Basque Country in the north and with Navarra in the east. Today Basque nationalism, born in the late nineteenth century, claims these territories as part of the greater "Euskal Herria" or "Basque Land". Some groups, like the Basque Nationalist Party (Partido Nacionalista Vasco - PNV) use peaceful, democratic means; others, like ETA, use violence. ETA is represented in parliament by the Herri Batasuna Party (HB - "People's Unity") which, for electoral purposes, adopted the name Euskal Herritarrok (EH) after 23 of its leaders were sentenced to seven years in jail on 1 December 1997. In elections EH-HB obtains an average of close to 15% of the vote (i.e. between 150,000 and 180,000 ballots).
The armed independence organisation ETA was born in 1959 under the dictatorship. In 1968 it embarked on an armed struggle against the Spanish state. According to official data, in 30 years it has been responsible for 782 deaths. But there have also been deaths among the "etarras" (active members of ETA), including about thirty killed by the Antiterrorist Groups (GAL), active from 1982 to 1986. On 16 September 1998, ETA announced an indefinite ceasefire which lasted until 3 December 1999. Since 21 January 2000 the armed separatist organisation has killed 13 people, including a journalist.
Attacks by ETA and its supporters against journalists and the media are nothing new, yet there has been an upsurge of violence since the truce - and even during that period ETA never stopped harassing the press.
Between 1978 and 1982, during the "democratic transition" in Spain, ETA attacked the press only sporadically. Then, during the next 15 years attacks ceased, before starting up again just before the signing in 1998 of the Lizarra Pact, an alliance between the PNV and EH.
On 27 February 2000 unidentified people threw Molotov cocktails at the home of José Luis López de Lacalle, in Andoain (Guipúzcoa province). Similar attacks were made that day against the premises of Radio Nacional de España (RNE) in Vitoria.
On 21 March 2000 a bomb exploded at the San Sebastian home of the parents of Pedro Briongos, editor-in-chief of El Correo. On 27 March 2000 police defused a parcel bomb found in a cigar box that ETA had sent to Carlos Herrera of RNE in the southern town Seville. On 30 March 2000 masked men dynamited the head office of the radio station Onda Cero in Vitoria.
On 25 April 2000 Madrid police defused a parcel bomb sent to the vice-managing editor of the daily La Razón, Jesús María Zuloaga, a specialist in terrorism. According to the interior minister, Jaime Mayor Orega, there is still uncertainty as to who sent the bomb, but the editorial staff of the daily recall that the journalist was threatened by Basque separatist groups who attempted to intimidate him.
On 7 May 2000 an unidentified assailant shot dead José Luis López de Lacalle in the small town Andoain, while the journalist was on his way home. José Luis López de Lacalle had refused offers of protection by the Basque autonomous police.
On 14 May 2000 unidentified persons threw Molotov cocktails at the head office of the daily El Diario Vasco in San Sebastian. On 4 June 2000 a Molotov cocktail was thrown onto the premises of the daily El Correo in Getxo (Guipúzcoa province). On 7 July a bomb exploded in front of the entrance to the Vitoria head office of the Basque newspaper El Correo.
After the end of the truce, José María Olarra, an HB leader, stated that journalists "incite terrorism". In a communiqué dated 2 February 1999, ETA described journalists who were "Basque traitors" or "Spanish invaders" as "enemy watchdogs" who informed or expressed themselves in Basque Country or Spanish state media "against the construction of Euskal Herria".
Often, as in the case of José Luis López de Lacalle, the attacks as such are preceded by a series of events: Constant threats and harassment by young freedom fighters close to ETA, protagonists of the phenomenon called "kale borroka" (struggle in the streets);
Tags, leaflets and banners with the name and photograph of the person labelled an "enemy of the Basque people"; Molotov cocktail attacks.
There is something in common between people whose lives are in danger, whether they are Basque or not and whether they live in Basque Country or not: their statements and opinions are considered to be "against the will of the Basque people" and the "construction of the nation". On 15 March 2000 members of the youth organisation Jarrai, close to ETA, pasted 2000 posters in the main towns in Basque Country, listing the names of 30 journalists and 20 media considered to be "slaves of the state". When on 16 April French police arrested Julia Moreno Macuso, a presumed member of ETA, she was carrying a list of journalists and editorialists targeted by ETA. Media close to the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional del País Vasco (National Liberation Movement for Basque Country - MLNV) gave the names of journalists accused of working for the interior ministry.
In this context several media feel threatened, in Madrid and Basque Country alike, especially the newspapers Correo Español and Diario Vasco, both members of the Groupe Correo, as well as the local editorial staff of the dailies El País and El Mundo and the radio station RNE.
Journalists of the daily El Correo say they feel far more threatened today, after experiencing attacks, than in the past. A journalist recounts: "As soon as we leave home we look around us to see if there aren't any suspicious characters around". Staff of RNE are sometimes victims of individual threats but, for fear of reprisals, refuse to talk about it. Certain journalists working in Madrid refuse transfers to Basque Country. Although the Spanish government persistently refuses to talk about journalists from the region who are "in exile", the pressure on journalists there is so strong that some, like Carmen Gurruchaga, have preferred to leave and many others would like to do so. This was the case of the managing editor of El Correo who received threats and whose name was on the lists given to ETA's commandos. He left for Madrid, like seven other journalists.
The national police provide protection in certain cases, but most people who have been threatened have private protection. In Madrid ten people have a national police escort. According to Jaime Mayor Oreja, interior minister, it is impossible to protect all threatened people.
The Basque authorities have set up a global and individual protection plan supported by all the media. A total of 25 to 30 persons are concerned, and two or three journalists in each media: escorts, surveillance of the homes of certain journalists, routine rounds, parking for press vehicles in police garages to prevent magnetic bombs from being placed on them, patrols on media premises, etc. Others refuse protection, like José Luis López de Lacalle.
Several national media have offices and staff in Basque country. After the most recent attacks most of them multiplied security measures, both in Basque Country and Madrid: metal detectors, scanners, security agents at the entrance to buildings, bullet-proof windows, private protection for management staff, etc. The daily El País has strengthened security measures on which it refuses to give further details. The protection of journalists is a very tricky matter, as the editors of the newspaper El Mundo put it: "Journalist cannot do their work well surrounded by bodyguards". Jesús María Zuloaga, of La Razón, resigned himself to taking certain security measures after the abortive attack on him. He nevertheless feels that "journalists must act openly and, being Basque for several generations, as far as [he is] concerned, to silence [him] they'd have to kill [him]".
According to RSF estimates, over one hundred journalists have some sort of protection. This includes the fifty or so journalists protected by police in Basque Country and elsewhere, as well as all those who use private security services.
As tension mounts, controversy is raging between the majority of non-nationalist "pro-Spanish" media, and the media and political leaders that support Basque nationalism.
Thus, some nationalist movement leaders, whether radical or moderate, accuse the "pro-Spanish" press of "media violence". The communication director of EH-HB accuses the Madrid press of "manipulating" news. Javier Arzalluz, PNV president, describes the newspaper El Correo as "belligerent". In its March/April 2000 edition, under the headline "Over one hundred journalists base their reporting on the interior minister's instructions", the magazine Ardi Beltz ("Black Sheep") listed the names of 41 journalists in various Spanish towns, accused of working under the rule of the police or army. The list included Jesús María Zuloaga, victim of an abortive attack on 25 April.
Faced with such statements and these "black lists", the Spanish press states that by pointing a finger like that at journalists and the media, "[the nationalists] take aim and ETA pulls the trigger" or, at least, that these names create a propitious climate for attacks against journalists.
After the murder of José Luis López de Lacalle, a Basque constitutionalist and opponent of nationalism, over one hundred managing editors of Spain's leading media, from the conservative ABC to the progressive El País, signed a manifesto read in public on 12 May in San Sebastían and entitled "They won't silence us". It read: "... Although we know it is ETA that kills and its political wing that justifies these murders ... the behaviour of certain leaders of the democratic nationalist parties vis-á-vis journalists and the media that criticise their ideology and their actions seems unwise". They added: "... this attitude, this pressure on 'uncooperative' journalists, has been used by advocates of violence to justify themselves with objective reasons". No editors of nationalist media signed this manifesto (the newspaper Deia states that "[it] was not invited to do so").
According to the testimonies recorded by RSF, virtually no Basque nationalists condemn attacks against the press. Yet the majority of them agree that the existence of ETA should not undermine their "right to divergent opinions".
Only EH-HB refused to condemn Luis López de Lacalle's murder. A senior member of its press service simply stated that he personally disagreed with that type of action, but refused to condemn it and "bet there will be no more victims". As regards the Spanish press - which, in his view, is "on the side of one of the factions" -, he granted it the "right to criticise" but immediately warned that "We will not allow manipulation [of information]".
Some media, such as the daily Deia, as well as all the other organisations in Basque Country, except EH-HB, condemned the murder of Luis López de Lacalle. Deia did so twice in its editorials and used the opportunity to denounce pressure "on colleagues whose ideas differ from our own". Javier Arzalluz noted that "attacks on journalists are reprehensible and ETA has no need for us to give it targets". The president of PNV justified his statements against journalists who were "enemies of nationalism" by recalling that employees of RTVE had insulted him, calling him a "son of a bitch" and an "idiot".
After the murder of José Luis López de Lacalle, a less aggressive tone has been apparent. The editors of Deia claim that the newspaper no longer names journalists personally, "as a precaution and for the benefit of the doubt" and affirm that they will continue that way as long as nobody cites the names of their journalists. Some nationalist leaders, including Juan María Atutxa, president of the Basque parliament, said to RSF: "we're going to tone down our words because when there are troubled waters, it's ETA that makes a good catch". Javier Arzalluz has agreed to lower the tone in the controversy and to refrain from naming the journalists and media he accuses, as long as "nobody attacks him". Even EH-HB has called for the general situation to be defused, and would like true dialogue. Yet the 4 June attack on Jesús Maria Pedrosa Urkiza, PP municipal councillor in Durango (Basque Country) casts serious doubts on the sincerity of these statements.
The working conditions of journalists in Basque Country, subjected to threats from ETA and its supporters, have become unbearable and the same applies to many other members of the profession in the rest of Spain. Self-censorship, inhibition, silence and exile are all tempting for journalists who fear they may be victims of terrorism or of direct attacks. Being singled out as the "enemy of Basque national construction" or having one's name on a "black list" can be the prelude to an attack. One journalist has already been murdered, two others narrowly escaped attacks, and everything suggests that this spiralling violence is not about to end.
RSF, while expressing its profound indignation at the escalation of terrorism used against the press, appeals to all the parties concerned:
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