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Spain20 February 2003

Explanation demanded for closure of Basque newspaper

Reporters Without Borders protested against the closure today of the Basque-language daily Euskaldunon Egunkaria and the arrest of 10 of its journalists and contributors on suspicion of "belonging to or working with the ETA terrorist organisation."

"The necessary and legitimate fight against terrorism must respect the principle of press freedom, which is at the core of any democracy," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Spanish justice minister José-Maria Michavila.

"It is hardly the moment to close a newspaper when the courts have not yet ruled on the charges against its arrested journalists. We ask you to explain your decision, which seems hasty in the absence of clear evidence to back up what they are accused of."

A national judge ordered the arrest of the paper’s senior staff, including publisher Martxelo Otamendi, and members of its board in Lezo, Bilbao, Andoain, Vitoria and Pamplona. Some branch offices were raided and material seized and those in Andoain, Pamplona and Bilbao were placed under seals.

The Basque separatist daily Egin and the radio station Egin-Irratia were temporarily closed in July 1998 on the orders of Judge Baltasar Garzon as part of a crackdown on ETA funding sources.

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