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Court issues landmark ruling on protection of journalists' sources

Suzanne Breen won the right to withhold information about the Real IRA from police
Suzanne Breen won the right to withhold information about the Real IRA from police

Paul Faith/PA

A Belfast journalist in Northern Ireland last week won the right to withhold material relating to the Real IRA from the state, in a landmark ruling on press freedom, say the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and ARTICLE 19.

Judge Tom Burgess ruled on 18 June that Suzanne Breen's life would be at risk if she handed over notes connected to an interview she conducted with the paramilitary organisation the Real IRA after it killed two British soldiers in March - as demanded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

"This is a historic victory in the journalists' fight for the protection of sources," said IFJ.

Breen, a correspondent for the Dublin-based "Sunday Tribune" newspaper, would have faced up to five years in prison if she had refused the court order to surrender her information. She argued that to hand over the information would breach journalistic confidentiality and put her and her family's lives at risk.

Judge Burgess ruled that granting the application would breach the journalist's right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

During the case Breen revealed that she had received warnings that she could be killed if she co-operated in the PSNI investigation.

Speaking outside the court, Breen said, "This is a landmark case decision. I think Judge Burgess has gone further than any other judge in recognising the confidentiality of sources," adding that the police application to the court "was a complete waste of time, resources and taxpayer's money."

More than 5,000 individuals and organisations, including RSF, had signed a petition organised by the National Union of Journalists calling for the dismissal of the proceedings against her.

IFJ and its European group, the European Federations of Journalists (EFJ), are leading a campaign for the review of anti-terrorism laws in European countries that threaten the protection of journalists' sources.

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