The year was marked by the continuing terror campaign, especially against the press, conducted by the terrorist organisation, Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA) in the Basque region and the rest of Spain. Attacks with journalists as targets resumed abruptly after the regional elections of 13 May 2001 when the pro-independence party, Euskal Herritarrok (EH, "Basque People"), considered the political wing of the ETA, suffered a serious setback by losing 7 of its 14 seats in the local parliament. Within a few days one journalist was killed and another seriously injured in attacks that were aimed at them personally. On 7 June 2001 two ETA leaders declared that the attacks on the press "advance the cause of free speech" for the pro-independence movement.
On 31 May 2001, after condemnations expressed in 2000 by the European Parliament and its president, Nicole Fontaine, the vice-president of the European Commission, Loyola de Palacio, with Reporters Without Borders denounced the violence and the death threats against journalists in the Spanish Basque country, in the heart of the European Union. RSF requested that a European Parliamentary mission be sent to the Basque country and initiated a chain of solidarity with the Basque country journalists threatened by the ETA in the line of their professional duty. The European media were invited to send one of their journalists to the region (San Sebastian, Bilbao...) to visit editorial offices and testify to the working conditions of the region’s press professionals.
In October the ETA announced a possible halt to violence in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001.
A journalist killed
On 24 May 2001 Santiago Oleaga Elejabarrieta, financial director of the Basque daily, El Diario Vasco, was murdered at point blank range in the car park of Maria Hospital in the El Antiguo district of San Sebastian. He was shot two or three times and died on the spot. Responsibility for the crime was claimed by the ETA.
Threats and attacks
In January 2001 Spanish investigators revealed that Luis del Olmo, a well-known journalist for radio station, Onda Cero, was the intended victim of an attack committed on 20 December 2000. Two suspected members of the "Barcelona commando" of the ETA were surprised that day by a policeman while they were pushing a booby-tapped car carrying 13.5 kg of explosives. The two men killed the policeman and escaped. The journalist presents a programme on Onda Cero with a large following.
On 3 March 2001 some twenty Molotov cocktails were thrown at the offices of the regional Basque daily, El Correo, in Bilbao (in the north of the country). This unclaimed act, which occurred while some forty people were working inside the building, did not cause any injuries. All fire was rapidly extinguished.
On 15 May, Gorka Landaburu, correspondent for the Madrid magazine, Cambio 16, and Radio France, received wounds to the hands and face when a booby-trapped package exploded in his home in Zarauz (northern Basque country). The journalist’s left thumb was blown off. The ETA claimed responsibility for the attack, calling Gorka Landaburu a "police-journalist".
On 28 August an incendiary device partially exploded in front of the home of political cartoonist, José Maria Aleman Amudarian, of the newspaper, El Diario Vasco. The attack claimed no victims and was attributed by the regional police to the Kale Borroka organisation ("fight for the streets"), a group close to the ETA. On 26 August a Molotov cocktail attack on the offices of the national radio station, SER, in Irun (Basque country) was also attributed to Kale Borroka. The newspaper, El Diario Vasco, has been attacked on several occasions. On 7 December 2000, a bomb composed of three gas canisters was found in front of the newspaper’s offices in Eibar (Basque country). On 13 May 2000, a powder-filled bottle exploded in front of the daily’s offices in San Sebastian.
Pressure and obstruction
On 16 January 2001 the manager of the regional television station, Telemadrid, Silvio Gonzalez, resigned upon the request of the president of the Madrid Autonomous Community. The evening before, the station, managed by the Madrid Community, had broadcast a report on the Basque country entitled "The paths of Euskadi" containing interviews of people from across the political spectrum, including proponents of independence. The spokesman of the independent coalition, Euskal Herritarrok, Arnaldo Otegi, was among those interviewed, and his comments "could have been taken by viewers as a veiled threat against the inhabitants of Madrid", according to an official of the station.
On 29 March Spanish journalist Pepe Rei, managing editor of the pro-independence magazine, Ardi Beltza ("black sheep" in Basque), was arrested for "belonging to the armed organisation, ETA" by judge Baltazar Garzon. Judge Garzon ruled that the magazine, Ardi Beltza, should be closed because of "the nature as an instrument and vehicle of the presumably illegal activity" of its managing editor, who was accused of pointing out potential targets to the ETA for attacks. In November 2000
Ardi Beltza was distributed with a video cassette called "Journalists: The Market of Lies", denouncing in violent terms the role of the press considered "in the pay" of the Spanish government. One of the forty journalists named in the video cassette, Aurora Intxausti, and her journalist husband, Juan Palomo, only escaped with their lives on 10 November 2000 when an explosive device failed to go off properly in front of the door to their home. Had it completely exploded, the bomb might have killed both journalists. On 13 June 2001 Pepe Rei was released on bail. The National Hearing, the highest penal court in the land felt that "naming and stigmatising are not judicial-penal concepts" and that "the magazine contained no explicit call to or act of terrorist violence". Ardi Beltza has not reappeared since.
The armed pro-independence organisation, ETA, has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders