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RSF calls for full investigation into spying on journalists and release of secret report

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has urged the German authorities to carry out a full investigation into the spying on investigative journalists that was reportedly carried out by the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) from the early 1990s until the autumn of 2005.

A parliamentary committee was due to question the BND on 16 May about its extensive clandestine monitoring of the press in which journalists were paid to inform on colleagues, according to details from a confidential report by former senior federal judge Gerhard Schäfer that were published by the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" daily on 12 May 2006.

"The authorities must shed light on all aspects of these serious press freedom violations by a democratic government's intelligence services," Reporters Without Borders said. "An investigation must be carried out to clearly establish who was responsible and which journalists collaborated, and the report that already exists must be made public."

The Schäfer report mentions the cases of six journalists who agreed to provide information on their colleagues or were forced to do so during interrogation. The BND, which is supposed to be a foreign intelligence service, began its spying in an attempt to identify the sources of leaks from within the service.

"Press freedom is guaranteed by article 5 of the German constitution and cannot be curtailed for the security reasons cited by the BND," the organisation said. "The protection of sources is the cornerstone of investigative journalism and is an absolute right. If it is not respected, the media cannot perform their role of providing information and contributing to democracy."

Reporters Without Borders continued: "It is a fundamental violation of professional ethics for journalists to work for intelligence agencies. Journalists who provide confidential information about their colleagues damage the credibility of the entire profession. They are also violating section 6.2 of the German press code of conduct."

The Schäfer report mentions the cases of a journalist formerly working for the magazine "Stern" and now employed by the "Süddeutsche Zeitung", who was watched from January to February 1996; a reporter for the "Südwest Presse" daily who was monitored; Erich Schmidt-Eenboom, a journalist based in Weilheim who wrote a 1993 book about internal conflicts resulting from the appointment of a new person to head the BND; and a reporter with the magazine "Spiegel" whose phone was tapped.

Reporters Without Borders said: "We welcome the 15 May statement by a spokesman for the chancellor that orders have been issued for the spying on journalists to stop and for journalists not to be used as informants. But the government still has not made clear who was responsible for these illegal practices or explained what measures will be put in place to prevent their repetition."

The Schäfer report says the complete list of journalists who were spied on is not known. A journalist working for the weekly "Focus", who was code-named "Dali" and "silent one," reportedly received 600,000 marks (306,000 euros) for his services to the BND from 1982 to 1998.

Freelance journalist Erwin Decker, a former war correspondent in Iraq for the "Tagesspiegel", "Handelsblatt" and "Bild" dailies, has confessed to providing information on one of his colleagues, Josef Hufelschulte, who worked for "Focus" and who was spied on for several years.

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