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Seventeen journalists under investigation over leaking of confidential documents

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF learned with concern on 3 August 2007 that prosecutors in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and other German cities are investigating 17 journalists in connection with the leaking of confidential documents from a parliamentary commission that is looking into the activities of the German domestic intelligence service, the BND, in the fight against terrorism.

"We are worried by the fact that the work of a large number of journalists working for the 'Berliner Zeitung', 'Die Zeit', 'Die Welt', 'Der Spiegel', 'Süddeutsche Zeitung' and other media outlets is being called into question," the press freedom organisation said. "These journalists should under no circumstances be treated like criminals."

RSF continued: "It is the duty of the media to investigate and report all news and information of general interest. This is why it is fundamental that the confidentiality of sources, one of the pillars of investigative journalism and press freedom, should be effectively protected by the legislature.

"We are all the more surprised by this decision as the German constitutional court in February condemned a search of the magazine 'Cicero' that was carried out after it published leaked confidential information". The court pointed out that press freedom is enshrined in the constitution and that it ruled that "searches and seizures in an investigation against members of the press are illegal if their sole or main aim is to identify a source" (see IFEX alerts of 2 March 2007 and 24 November 2005).

At the time, RSF had proposed that article 353b of the criminal code concerning "complicity in divulging a state secret" should not apply to journalists.

According to the Association of German Journalists (DJV), there have been a total of 180 legal proceedings against journalists for "complicity in betraying a state secret" since 1986.

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