On the face of it, it seems as if justice has worked as it should. Five directors of a Basque newspaper called Egunkaria were wrongly accused of being in the service of ETA, and today a Spanish court has absolved them of all charges. Surely no cause for complaint there, but when you look at the history of the case you come across something that can only be described as a massive and prolonged miscarriage of justice. Today Egunkaria makes headlines because of the verdict, but most of the long and sorry story of this case has been largely invisible, except to those who seek out information about it.
Egunkaria was originally founded in 1990, and was at that time the only newspaper that published entirely in the Basque language. Perhaps not surprisingly, the paper adopted positions that could be broadly identified with Basque nationalism, but not with support for ETA and terrorism. However, in 2001 a captain in the Spanish Guardia Civil presented a report to judge Baltasar Garzón claiming that documentation captured from ETA members could be interpreted to mean that Egunkaria had been set up to further the aims of the group. Garzón, who can legitimately be accused of overdoing it when it comes to tarring people as accomplices of terrorism, didn't bite on this particular hook and rejected the accusation.
That could, and should, have been the end of the matter. But the Guardia Civil officer persisted until he found a judge more receptive to his argument, and it was to be judge Juan del Olmo who took the decision to act and to close Egunkaria, claiming that it was created, financed and directed by ETA. We are now in 2003. Serious accusations of being terrorist accomplices were made against the directors of the newspaper. The years passed, and Del Olmo was unable to sustain a case proving the accusations used to close the paper. By 2006 the state prosecution service was already declaring that no evidence existed to substantiate the allegations of ETA support or control and called for the case to be shelved. Over three years ago.
Again, you might think that would spell the end of the process. But it continued, thanks above all to the fact that two of these ultra right-wing group who seem to make all the running in the Spanish legal system these days managed to keep the process going without the support of prosecutors. So finally, at the end of last year, the Egunkaria case came to trial with the accusation being presented by the Asociación Víctimas del Terrorismo and another group called, quite inappropriately, Dignidad y Justicia. The trial sessions did not last very long, but it was carried out on the principle of having a morning of hearings and then adjourning until the following week. Then it has taken another three months for the verdict to be issued, perhaps just a detail when you consider the overall time frame we are dealing with.
The verdict today dismisses the charges against the accused. Despite the careful legal language and the general unwillingness for those inside the system to ever admit mistakes, it is quite a damning document. It states clearly that the groundless prosecution has been based on the idea that anything to do with the Basque language or culture must also have something to do with ETA. The trial judge, Javier Gómez Bermúdez, comes close to suggesting that Del Olmo acted illegally in closing the paper. He even, and this is probably a first from a Spanish judge hearing a case linked to ETA, doesn't dismiss the accusations of mistreatment and torture made by the accused following their arrest. Gómez Bermúdez is certainly no radical, he was the judge who presided over the Madrid bombings trial. For that he is already on the hitlist of some of the right wing media who supported the 11-M conspiracy theories. His latest decision will guarantee his position on that list.
So there we are, surely justice has prevailed? Well no, a perfectly legal newspaper was closed years before the case affecting it came to trial and several of its directors have spent those years living under the shadow of being accused as terrorist collaborators. The closure can never be compensated, and justice still has a long way to go to right this situation. One of the ironies of the trial was that the groups presenting this bogus accusation attempted to frighten the court by claiming that huge compensation would have to be paid if the accused were not found guilty. But what price do you put on them being denied the right for years to freely publish in their language of choice?