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Swiss court rules search of journalist's home "illegal"

The European Newspaper Publishers' Association (ENPA), the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), and the World Editors Forum have welcomed the 11 September decision of the District Court in Neuchâtel in the case of prominent Le Matin journalist Ludovic Rocchi that protects journalists' sources and defends the freedom of the press.

Ruling the search and seizure of computer equipment and notebooks illegal, the Court ordered the prosecutor in charge of the case to return the materials with their protective seals intact.

Dismissing as “nonsense” the prosecutor's justifications for ordering a search of Mr. Rocchi's private residence, the judgement condemned the “hasty and premature” decision to issue a search warrant. Noting that the intention of the prosecution was clearly to expose the perpetrators of supposed violations of secrecy, the Court considered the search a means of pressuring journalists, who in a state of law, "must obviously be protected against such acts."

The European and global press organisations, which had protested to Swiss authorities against the seizure earlier this month, called on the prosecutor to accept the judgment and not file an appeal.

“We welcome the decision to dismiss this outrageous attempt to intimidate the press in Switzerland,” said Vincent Peyrègne, the CEO of WAN-IFRA. “The Court has clearly recognised the danger to press freedom caused by this affair and has rightly stepped back from favouring the absurd precedent this would have set. We urge the Swiss authorities to remain vigilant and to work together with the media profession to ensure a recurrence of this kind of threat is never allowed.”

Mr Rocchi has been instrumental in exposing bad practice and suspected plagiarism at the University of Neuchâtel. His investigations, published by Le Matin newspaper, led to an official inquiry into the institution. As a result he faces charges of defamation, slander and violation of secrecy that were brought by one of the University's directors - accusations that Mr. Rocchi denies.

In the early hours of 13 August, the journalist's private residence was searched and police confiscated computer equipment and notebooks. The prosecutor was obliged to argue the case for removal of official seals placed on the materials before the Courts, making yesterday's decision a victory for the protection of journalists' sources.

To read the original letter of protest to the Swiss authorities visit
http://www.wan-ifra.org/node/84981/

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