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Department of Justice asks reporter to betray source but spares one of its own whistleblowers

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is disturbed to learn that "New York Times" reporter James Risen was served with a subpoena on 23 May 2011 from the Department of Justice to testify at former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling's trial on a criminal charge of disclosing restricted information to reporters. Risen has been asked to appear in court on 12 September. It is the fourth time he has been subpoenaed.

The Department of Justice document received by Risen says he is a witness in the Sterling case and must reveal his sources and information to the jury. If he refuses, he could go to prison for contempt of court.

"This subpoena is a serious threat to media freedom and the protection of sources," Reporters Without Borders said. "The entire journalistic profession is concerned, not just Risen. Sources could stop talking to the press if they know they are not protected. We have long been calling for a federal shield law.

"Thirty-six states of the union and the District of Columbia currently have their own legislation guaranteeing journalists varying degrees for protection for their sources. Similar legislation must be adopted at the federal level for the sake of the freedom of information, which is enshrined in the US Constitution."

The same day as Risen's subpoena, it was revealed that the Justice Department has decided not to prosecute Thomas M. Tamm, a former employee who told "Newsweek" he was one of the sources for a 2005 "New York Times" article (written by Risen and Eric Lichtblau) revealing that President George W. Bush had directed the ADD: National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct large-scale electronic surveillance of Americans in a completely illegal manner, without obtaining warrants. The White House had put a lot of pressure on the "New York Times" not to run the story.

"The Department of Justice's behaviour is completely inconsistent," Reporters Without Borders added. "It cannot ask a journalist to testify against a source and at the same time refuse to prosecute one of its own former officials, who revealed the same kind of information as the former CIA official is alleged to have done. Attorney General Eric Holder must publicly explain this contradiction. And given these circumstances, we urge him to drop the subpoena against Risen."

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To read the full press release, click here
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