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Spain10 November 2008

Prosecutor requests five-month jail terms for journalists who covered radical Basque demo

Reporters Without Borders condemns the five-month prison sentences that have been requested for two journalists - reporter Asier Velez de Mendizábal of the daily Gara and photographer Lánder Fernández de Arroyabe of the Argazki Press agency - who covered a demonstration by a radical Basque nationalist group in Pamplona, in the northern region of Navarre.

The sentences were requested on 3 November by prosecutor Edilberto Esteban Iglesias of the Navarre provincial court. The journalists are charged with “complicity in disturbing public order.”

“The prosecutor’s position is incomprehensible,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Firstly because, in his account of the events, he accepted that the two journalists were not part of the demonstration. Secondly, because they had press accreditation and were just doing their work.”

The press freedom organisation added : “It is outrageous that they must answer charges of complicity in demonstrations they were just observing. We call on the authorities to drop the charges against these two journalists and to return the equipment that was confiscated from them.”

Mendizábal and Fernández covered a demonstration staged by Basque Nationalist Action (ANV) outside the Pamplona city hall on 17 June in protest against the closure of some of its offices - ordered by Judge Baltasar Garzón on 8 February because of its alleged links with the armed separatist group ETA - and the fact that some of its election candidates had been declared illegal.

The protest was led by ANV municipal councillor Mikel Gastei, who broke the seals over the doors to the party’s offices in the city hall building. He and six other demonstrators are charged with disturbing public order and disobeying the authorities.

The Pamplona municipal police arrested the two journalists on charges of complicity under article 20 of the criminal code, and confiscated Fernández’s cameras.

In joint press release on 3 November, Baigorri Argitaletxea (the group that publishes Gara) and Argazki Press condemned the indictment as “a threat to the right to report the news” and voiced their support for the two journalists.




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