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Journalists welcome European call to review anti-terrorism laws

(IFJ/IFEX) - 29 May 2009 - Ministers of the human rights network of the Council of Europe have called on their governments to review anti-terrorism laws in the face of strong criticism from journalists that some laws are in practice limiting free expression and press rights.

Meeting in Reykjavik today, the 1st Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Media and new Communications Services bowed to pressure from press freedom groups, including the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), to accept that the time was right to assess the impact of terror laws enacted since attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.

"This recommendation sends a strong message," said Aidan White, EFJ General Secretary. "European governments need to act now to repair the damage done to civil liberties by the rush to legislate over the threat of terrorism."

Attempts by some governments to water down the final conference resolution to avoid calling for such a review were swept aside after protests from a forum of civil society groups insisted that the impact on civil liberties of many new laws required urgent action. Two weeks ago the EFJ annual meeting in Varna Bulgaria also called for new action to roll back anti-terrorism laws that are undermining journalism.

Journalists, European publishers, broadcasters and media advocacy groups joined forces and issued a statement calling on ministers to back a review. White addressed ministers preparing the final text and urged them not to dilute the final text and they eventually agreed. "Without a clear commitment to review these laws, the proposed declaration of European ministers on the impact of anti-terrorism laws on free expression rights would be worthless," he said.

During the meeting the EFJ also raised two cases causing concern to journalists.

In Ireland, the journalist Suzanne Breen of the Sunday Tribune is battling against a court order in Belfast to hand over material related to her reports on a rump terrorist group, the Real IRA. The EFJ warned that the case illustrated how the law is being used to force journalists to reveal their source of information. "Journalists in the UK and Ireland protest that the safety of this journalist as well as press freedom are at risk by this case," said White. "It is intolerable pressure on press rights."

In Sweden, White supported the action by Swedish journalists and publishers who have joined hands to protest over a new law that in the name of security gives the state the right to monitor all Internet and E-mail communications that cross the Swedish border, effectively opening up the door to mass surveillance of the population and particularly threatening the work of journalists.

"This sort of law strikes at the heart of the country's democratic culture and shows that civil liberties even in the strongest European democracies are under threat from an obsessive and disproportionate approach to anti-terrorism policy," said White.

The EFJ represents over 250,000 journalists in more than 30 countries of Europe.

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