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IPI condemns ongoing treatment of "Cicero" magazine and reporter Bruno Schirra by German authorities

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is an IPI letter to Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble:

H.E. Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble
Interior Minister
Ministry of the Interior
Alt-Moabit 101 D
D-10559 Berlin
Germany

Fax: +49-1888-68 12 926

Vienna, 24 November 2005

Your Excellency,

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, leading journalists and media executives in over 110 countries, condemns the ongoing treatment of the magazine Cicero and its reporter Bruno Schirra by German authorities.

According to information provided to IPI, in June, the German Criminal Investigation Office (BKA) issued a writ against Schirra accusing him of "betraying state secrets" under section 353b of the German penal code (StGB); and, in the middle of September, police raided the editorial offices of Cicero in Potsdam.

The actions of the authorities are related to an article written by Schirra in Cicero's April edition titled, "The Most Dangerous Man in the World." The article provided an exposé of Iraqi insurgent Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and used extensive quotes from a 125-page BKA document that blended reports from American, French, German and Israeli intelligence sources. Before the article's publication, Schirra had contacted the BKA and sought a meeting with the agency.

During the raid on Cicero's offices, on 12 September, police copied Schirra's work from his computer in the editorial room onto diskette, but were unable to find the BKA document. At the same time, police also raided Schirra's home where they removed 15 boxes of private documents "accidentally" found in the journalist's cellar. The documents were later returned.

The raids were authorised in a writ issued by the Potsdam district court acting on the request of the prosecutor's office. The writ apparently accused Cicero and Schirra of being "accessories to the betrayal of official secrets." Section 353b requires the prior authorisation of the Interior Ministry.

Moreover, the Potsdam investigation has led to Schirra's further investigation. The material discovered "accidentally" in Schirra's cellar is also being used by Berlin's prosecution authorities who, once again, accuse the journalist of being an "accessory to the betrayal of official secrets." The Berlin charge is thought to relate to a number of scandals covered by the reporter in the past decade.

Commenting on the Cicero and Schirra case at the end of September, the then Interior Minister Otto Schily told an annual congress of German newspaper publishers that the prosecutions were justified and that the state would pursue all journalists who quoted from secret documents. On 13 October, at a meeting requested by the parliamentary interior committee, Schily described critics of the prosecution as people whose "stupid gossip. . . is foolishness."
In the Taz newspaper, Frank Thiel, a spokesperson for the Berlin prosecutor's office, said that while it may be daily practice for journalists to use confidential documents ". . . it remains punishable."

Your Excellency, the case involving Cicero and the journalist Schirra contains a number of worrying developments for press freedom and freedom of expression in Germany.

Indeed, it appears that Cicero and Schirra are the victims of a perfect storm combining a heightened awareness of terrorism issues within Europe with a tough and unyielding approach from prosecutors that imitates the prosecutor's actions against journalists protecting their sources in the Valerie Plame case in the United States.

IPI would remind Your Excellency that terrorism issues are of burning public interest and the German people have a right to know that they might be under threat. Schirra's article was not only in the public interest, it heightened awareness, and may well have contributed to increased vigilance.

Regarding the prosecutor's comments in the case, it seems that there is a politically-driven desire to punish journalists for the government's embarrassment at the leaking of certain documents.

The authorities have a perfect right to try and establish the leak's origin; however, they must give due regard to the guarantee of press freedom under the German Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the case law of the German legal system.

The General Prosecutor's Office has also reportedly drafted rules for handling media cases leading to a cessation in the type of prosecution proposed against Schirra. The prosecution of Schirra will be extremely damaging not only for press freedom within Germany and the European Union, but also in other regions, where the case could be used to justify repressive actions against the media.

With the above in mind, IPI calls on Your Excellency to do everything possible to suspend the prosecutions against Cicero and Schirra, and invites the Ministry of the Interior and General Prosecutor's Office to issue new guidelines to prosecutors upholding press freedom and the media's right to protect their confidential sources, as well as guaranteeing the media's right to report on matters in the public interest.

We thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Johann P. Fritz
Director

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