There have been important results a year after we stood up to the Muzzle Law and the fine which Spanish Governmentthe gave us under its terms. In the first case connected with journalism, the Muzzle Law has taken a step backwards. Those of us who have decided not to remain silent when confronted with human rights violations have a grin on our faces, having won another reason to carry on providing information and influencing.
“Si te mandan una carta, y no va perfumada, es del Gobierno Civil” ('If they send you an unperfumed letter, it's from the Spanish government's delegation'). If the music group Kojon Prieto y los Huajalotes were still singing in the 21st century, I am sure they would make mention of Carlos Urquijo. Over the last four years, the Spanish Government's representative in the Basque Autonomous Community has fined hundreds of Basque citizens, organizations and town councils. In fact, at ARGIA we were very surprised to hear that we would have to pay 601 Euros for having done our work. Even more seeing that he had used the Muzzle Law, only supported by the PP, to fine us. And further still when we saw that this was not only happening in the southern Basque Country, journalists and media throughout the Spanish State also having received such welcome news.
A small, independent Basque language publication was the first thing in the sights of the Spanish Government's state-of-emergency law. It happened on March 3rd last year, a week before the 13th anniversary of the closure of Euskaldunon Egunkaria (the only Basque language newspaper at that time). The same old explanations. It used to be “being controlled by ETA”; now it is a Tweet “when there are threats from ETA and the Ospa and Alde Hemendik movements to police officers' and their families' physical safety. Now at Iberdrola, when he was a minister Angel Acebes stated that he "defended Basque and citizens' rights"; "It is a complete joke to say that there is a problem about freedom of expression in Spain and the right to demonstrate" is what Mariano Rajoy has now said in the Spanish parliament. Apparently, we Basque journalists still do not understand what the important people in Madrid are doing.
The solidarity and protection given by the Basque media have not changed over the years. We journalists are privileged in that attacks against us are more widely reported on that attacks on other citizens in general. But making it a collective problem has been the key. Stating from the very first moment that ARGIA was not going to pay the unfair fine and that we were ready to disobey the Muzzle Law accelerated the collective response. The response from the Basque media and journalists was incredibly influential, and the news reached the international press in just a few hours. And that is how ARGIA's 601 Euro fine became news thousands of kilometres away in The New York Times and Al Jazeera. From then on the news spread ceaselessly: Mexico, the French State, Russia, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Australia… Part of our own story has been hearing the name ARGIA in the Spanish parliament, as mentioned by Onintza Enbeita, and being invited to take part in Jordi Evole's Salvados television programme. The producers withdrew the invitation at the last moment.
There were also people who decided to remain silent. Not many, but they were big players. While The Guardian was reporting on a Basque receiving punishment, the best-selling newspapers here did not even mention the matter. And the interview which El País never published, in which the Madrid journalist's first question was whether I was connected with the Basque Left in any way. Two sad examples. And the same thing happened when we won the case.
The first complaint was made by our friends at Eleak/Libre, and after the push given by the Hekimen media, the Basque Autonomous Community’s Journalists’ Association opened the way, which was followed by most of the journalists’ associations in the Spanish state supporting us, along with the European Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International and the 100 NGOs in the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, who spoke out against the fine and the Muzzle Law.
We went to where laws are made with a proposal not to obey them. The madness at our head offices in Lasarte-Oria is an example. Like ex-politicians put into a daze by revolving doors, our modest scale meant that we had a job to get heard. As well as the General Assembly of Gipuzkoa and the Parliament of Navarre agreeing with our proposal not to obey the Muzzle Law, the Parliament of Euskadi – which is guarded by the police – accepted our proposal almost unanimously.
Unfortunately, time ended up confirming the position of the only people who voted against ARGIA's proposal. "You are breaking laws in a senseless way", said Carmelo Barrio as he stared at EAJ and PS representatives: "You are not going to carry out what you have passed today". Since then, the Basque Autonomous Police have confirmed his words 2,857 times, as has interior minister Beltran de Heredia once: "We are here to obey the law" were her simple words.
We did not go to class on the day our politics teacher explained that "What is said in parliament often stays there". And we simply believed that citizens, stakeholders in society, political parties and a parliamentary majority would be enough to change the police force's attitude.
A precedent to what?
Since fining us, the government has paid no heed to statements made by journalists' associations and important international civil rights associations. The Spanish ombudsman – Soledad Becerril – was not helped by being a member of the governing PP, and Rajoy refused to listen to her request to quash the fine. But then, all of a sudden, six days before the trial, they decided to turn back. Javier de Andres, Urquijo's successor, explained that there were administrative problems with the fine. In order not to address the issue in itself, he used the customary legal excuse. Nobody questions the fact that the decision has more to do with the current political situation than with justice being done or with protecting rights. They do not want to see the Muzzle Law and the right to record the police in the courts at the moment, and, according to some wicked tongues, our case was no help to the continuation of sweet talks between PSOE, EAJ and PP.
We know that this is not a legal precedent because they have avoided the real issue. They have not desisted with regard to punishments with the same lack of explanation or even less explanation.
Apart from legal attempts to stop the Muzzle Law, this year-long story also has a political side to it. Which, if so wished, could become a precedent. As a result of not remaining silent, using arguments which can win and being stimulated into action by being a small organisation, thanks to the encouragement of independent media and citizens' movements. We wanted to show that it is still worth protesting nowadays, standing up against self-censorship, we journalists not rejecting our own rights. Reporting on work carried out in public by public employees can in no way be a crime. And, even under the terms of the Muzzle Law, we have shown that the right lines can be drawn.
We think depending on the earth we tread on. The ARGIA community, which grows from day to day, is a fine place to jump off from, and to go anywhere.
The Basque Country Feminist Movement has given its first evaluation of the day. They underline that it was "a complete success", as can be seen in the photographs. They see the strike's success as turning point, and say it is time to take real measures "once and for all". According to the feminist movement, 230,000 women demonstrated in the Basque Country on the day.
Over recent years the FCC company has been in charge of keeping the streets of Hernani (Gipuzkoa) clean, just as in many other Basque towns. But from May onwards Hernani's own Garbitania public service will be doing that. Votes from EH Bildu and Orain Hernani (Podemos) passed switching the service from the private sector back to the public sector.
Basque political prisoner Xabier Rey Urmeneta has died in Puerto de Santa Maria Prison (Cadiz, Spain), more than 1,000 kilometres from his home in Iruñea.
A demonstration had been organised for 14th April in Iruñea in support of the three young people who have been held in prison for almost a year and a half, and to demand they be given a fair trial. After a pub brawl with two members of the Civil Guard (Spanish armed forces), they were arrested and have been held in custody since then.
Last Saturday the anti-incinerator movement organised a mass demonstration in Donostia-San Sebastian (Basque Country). They gave the provincial government and its leader, Markel Olano, a message: "Use your energy recycling, not just burning refuse".
Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France, has replied to a request made by Euskaltzaindia (the Royal Academy of the Basque Language), and stated that the official signs as the Tour goes through Senpere and Ezpeleta on 28th July will be bilingual, in Basque and French.
This year is the Eusko's fifth birthday. This solidarity and ecology-focused local currency is used in Lapurdi, Lower Navarre and Zuberoa (the northern Basque Country, which is under French administration). It is strongly supported by both citizens and institutions, and the aim is to continue enlarging the network which uses it. To celebrate the fifth anniversary, a "great family-style party" has been organised for 4th March.
On the morning of 20th February, 2003, I picked up the phone and heard Joxemari Irazusta's voice: "The Civil Guard have arrested Pello Zubiria." Pello? Joxemari told me the little he knew about it, and I couldn't believe it. I got back into bed; I couldn't digest the news. After turning around for a couple of minutes I got up again and set off for Lasarte (Gipuzkoa), the place where we edit ARGIA.
The European Court of Human Rights has condemned the Spanish State for torturing Igor Portu and Mattin Sarasola. The judges decided that Spain had contravened the 3rd clause of the European Convention. The Spanish State has to pay the two men 30,000 and 20,000 Euros, respectively, "for moral damages".
Andoain Town Council (Gipuzkoa, Basque Country) has signed an agreement with Fiare. Socially excluded citizens, and those in danger of being so, will be able to ask for loans from the ethical bank without the guarantees required by traditional banks.