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Editor of closed newspaper financially ruined by court rulings on Partido Popular politicians' lawsuits

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF condemns the court decisions that forced the weekly "La Realidad" to close in 2001, brought its editor, Patxi Ibarrondo, to financial ruin and helped to destroy his health. The court rulings were issued on libel lawsuits filed by representatives of the conservative Popular Party (Partido Popular, PP) in the northern region of Cantabria.

"Ibarrondo's plight highlights the imbalance sometimes seen between the defence of journalists' rights and the defence of the reputation of those who think they have been defamed," RSF said. "It is understandable that newspapers may be sued, but lawsuits should not lead to a newspaper's bankruptcy and closure, and to the ruin of its editor, especially before the appeal process is concluded."

RSF added, "Although the Civil Procedure Law (Ley de Enjuiciamiento Civil, LEC) was amended in 2003 under pressure from the media, Ibarrondo continues to be subject to punitive rulings issued under its previous provisions. We call for them to be reviewed in the light of the new legislation, which makes it impossible to demand payment of damages while a court's decision is still provisional and without the possibility of appeal."

"La Realidad" was forced to close on 28 December 2001 and fire its 30 employees because it could not afford the damages it had been ordered to pay to the PP's general secretary in Cantabria, Carlos Sáiz, who had sued it because of an article referring to a trip he apparently made to Switzerland. Judge Laura Cuevas ruled that the article was based on the presumption that anyone traveling to Switzerland had to be doing so for questionable reasons, and she therefore ordered "La Realidad" to pay Sáiz 120,000 euros in damages. This was reduced on appeal to 12,000 euros.

To ensure full payment of the amount, the same judge issued a ruling in January 2007 ordering the withdrawal of 12 percent of Ibarrondo's disability pension from his bank account each month. In a follow-up decision in May, his account was frozen.

Ibarrondo must now additionally pay damages of 15,000 euros because of articles about PP's spokesman in the Cantabria parliament, Francisco Rodriguez Argüeso. In this case, Ibarrondo was convicted for refusing to reveal who wrote the articles. He fears that the court could order his arrest for non-payment.

Now 54, Ibarrondo has had Parkinson's disease since July 2004. Medical experts have said the "intense and prolonged effort" he was required to make at the time of "La Realidad"'s closure brought on the condition. As he is no longer able to work, he receives a monthly disability pension of 800 euros.

He can no longer pay for his legal defence and his lawyer stopped representing him, without warning, at a time when he needed to appeal to a higher court. The deadline for submitting this appeal has now passed.

In the course of a long career, Ibarrondo worked for the publications "El País", "Diario 16", "Cambio 16" and the radio programme "La Hoja del Lunes", as well as other news media.

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