Rune Engelbreth Larsen
Jens-André P. Herbener
Rune Engelbreth Larsen
An important newspaper is closed and ten persons from its management - including several of the country's most important cultural personalities - are arrested, kept incomunicado for days and are subject to tough interrogations with methods resembling torture, all because of vague accusations of supporting terrorism.
A few days after the closure, we see one of the area's biggest demonstrations ever (with about 100,000 participants), but the closure as well as the demonstration are passed by in silence or brushed aside in short paragraphs in national as well as international media.
Could such a thing happen in a democracy?
And could such an assault against the freedom of speech and such an overt disregard for the basic rights of the people under arrest happen in a Western European country?
The first question shall remain unanswered; the answer to the second question, however, is yes.
On February 20, the Spanish authorities closed the Basque newspaper "Euskaldunon Egunkaria". Egunkaria was the only newspaper published solely in Basque - for many years, it was published with a print run of about 15,000. The closure was motivated by documents seized by Spanish police from ETA's management about ten years (!) ago - the most important information to be gained from these documents seems to be the fact that ETA's management was happy that a Basuqe-language newspaper was published.
The newspaper is accused of collabrating with ETA, and the closure is happening as one of the first steps of an investigation; not even the authorities involved claim to be able to motivate the closure with more than vague and outdated circumstantial evidence.
Martxelo Otamendi, the newspaper's editor-in-chief, was able to tell the following about the interrogation methods of the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) after his release: "They twice forced a plastic bag over my head, made me crouch naked, and pointed an unloaded pistol against my temple" (See e.g., "The Independent", d. 27.02.03).
While the accusations of torture are difficult to prove, the implicit consequence of the sanction - that it is possible to close a newspaper and arrest its management solely on circumstantial evidence, and that the closure can be motivated partly by the ideas expressed in this newspaper (cf. the Spanish newspaper "El País" on 27.02.03) - is an assault against common legal rights which makes the resounding silence in the Spanish press as well as in international media the possibly most frightening aspect of this case.
Where are the furious protests from the editors-in-chief of Politiken, Jyllands-Posten or Information [important Danish newspapers] when colleagues in another European country are arrested and their newspaper is closed on vague and purely circumstantial evidence? Or are we getting closer to a situation where we "understand" that the fact that a newspaper is published in a "politically inconvenient" language such as Basque may in itself be an indication of its closure?
In the Basque Country, little doubt seems to exist; the closure of the only newspaper in Basque is seen as (yet another) assault on Basque language and culture, not as a part of the fight against a terrorism which few people support. On February 22, about 100,000 people demonstrated against the closure in the Basque city of San Sebastián (cf. http://www.euskalnet.net/ileturia/egunkaria/ ) - a demonstration which in most media was silenced or mentioned in a paragraph as "some thousands" ... ...
And in Denmark? Will we protest against this assault against the basic freedom of speech- or will we let it form an Europeran precedence and not consider a protest before it is our turn? When the largest media choose to dismiss the arbitrary closure of a newspaper with resounding silence, it does not give much promise for neither Denmark's nor Europe's future.
By Carsten Agger
Published in Politiken, March 4th, 2003