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Six other journalists now under investigation in military leak; SEEMO protests pressuring of media

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a letter by the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an IPI affiliate:

SEEMO LETTER OF PROTEST: ROMANIA

H.E. Calin Popescu-Tariceanu
Prime Minister of Romania
Bucharest, Romania
Fax: +40 21 312 24 36

H.E. Monica Luisa Macovei
Minister of Justice
Bucharest, Romania
Fax: +40 21 310 16 64

Vienna, 23 February 2006

Your Excellencies,

The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists from South East Europe, and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), expresses its outrage at recent government pressure on journalists in Romania.

According to information by the Civic Media Association in Bucharest, since the beginning of February 2006, six Romanian journalists have been placed under judicial pressure in Romania as a result of their professional activities. On 7 February, anonymous sources provided two national dailies from Bucharest, ZIUA and Romania Libera, with military documents about Romanian and US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, the newspapers decided not to publish this information. The military information was sent to the editorial offices on a CD copy, which was later handed over to the authorities.

Afterwards, the Romania Libera correspondent from Vrancea county, Marian Garleanu, was arrested on 16 February and released after two days. His arrest was part of a broader investigation into the leak of military information by a former Romanian soldier, which has been described by some as classified.

Sebastian Oancea, another journalist from Vrancea county and a correspondent for Academia Catavencu magazine in Bucharest, was also implicated in the case by the authorities. His home was searched on 18 February and his personal CDs and computer hard drive were confiscated. On 20 February, the public prosecutors in Bucharest charged and indicted Oancea for the possession and distribution of state secrets.

Defense Minister Teodor Atanasiu said the information was two years old and "doesn't threaten our forces (. . .) but it is very serious that something like this was leaked."

Three journalists for ZIUA daily, Bogdan Comaroni, Doru Dragomir and Victor Roncea, who is also a member of the Civic Media Association, are now also under investigation by the public prosecutors for possession of the information - in spite of the fact that the journalists informed the authorities about the information and handed it over. Ovidiu Ohanesian from Romania Libera is also being investigated in the same case. Elsewhere, Sorin Rosca Stanescu, Director of ZIUA daily, and Petre Mihai Bacanu, Director of Romania Libera daily, were questioned by the prosecutors about this case.

SEEMO strongly condemns the attempt to pressure journalists into revealing their sources. Governments should not involve journalists in their criminal investigations, nor intimidate them in order to influence their reporting.

We urge Your Excellencies to do everything in your power to stop these practices and to prevent such cases from happening in the future. SEEMO would also like to remind Your Excellencies that an open media environment allowing for the free flow of information is a fundamental principle of any democratic society.

We thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Oliver Vujovic
SEEMO Secretary General

RECOMMENDED ACTION:

Similar appeals may be sent to:

H.E. Calin Popescu-Tariceanu
Prime Minister of Romania
Bucharest, Romania
Fax: +40 21 312 24 36

H.E. Monica Luisa Macovei
Minister of Justice
Bucharest, Romania
Fax: +40 21 310 16 64

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

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