Reporters Without Borders

Court urged not to set bad precedent in trial of three journalists for publishing leaked intelligence

Court urged not to set bad precedent in trial of three journalists for publishing leaked intelligence

Published on Monday 13 November 2006.
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Three journalists with the Berlingske Tidende daily newspaper face up to two years in prison for publishing information leaked by a Danish intelligence officer denying that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Reporters Without Borders is surprised that a country like Denmark has brought such charges against journalists, and it calls for their withdrawal.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the trial that began today in Copenhagen in which the editor of the Berlingske Tidende daily newspaper, Niels Lunde, and two of his reporters, Michael Bjerre and Jesper Larsen, are accused of “harming state security” by publishing leaked Danish intelligence about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq.

It is the first time this charge has been brought against journalists in Denmark, which has one of the world’s best records on press freedom. The three Berlingske Tidende journalists face sentences of up to two years in prison in the trial, which is not expected to produce a verdict before the end of the month.

“We are surprised by the decision to try them on this charge, which is unprecedented in Denmark,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We hope they will be acquitted. If not, the trial will set an extremely prejudicial precedent for press freedom.”

The organisation continued: “We point out that journalists have a duty to act in the general interest. In this case, their revelations allowed the public to evaluate Denmark’s decision to join the US-led coalition in Iraq in a new light as they showed that, in 2003, there was no confirmation of the presence of WMD in Iraq.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Frank Grevil, the military intelligence officer who leaked passages from classified reports to them, was tried and sentenced to four months in prison last year. The journalists cannot be blamed for the defence ministry leaks.”

The leaked passages, published in articles on 22 and 23 February and 7 March 2004, said there was no credible information about the existence of WMD in Iraq prior to the March 2003 invasion. Nonetheless, it was Iraq’s alleged possession of WMD that was Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s chief argument for Danish participation in the coalition.

An investigation was initiated against Bjerre and Larsen on 26 April 2004 as the authors of the articles on suspicion of “publishing information obtained illegally from a third party” under article 152-d of the criminal code. If convicted on this lesser charge, they would have faced up to six months in prison. But they and their editor are now being tried on the more serious charge of “harming state security.”

The Berlingkse Tidende case brings to eight the number of journalists charged with revealing state secrets in Western Europe since the start of this year.


28 April 2006

Government urged to drop charges against three journalists accused of publishing classified information

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today that two reporters with the Berlingske Tidende daily newspaper, Michael Bjerre and Jesper Larsen, have been charged with threatening state security for publishing articles on 22 and 23 February and 7 March 2004 based on leaked Danish intelligence reports. No date has been set for a trial.

A military intelligence officer, Frank Soeholm Grevil, allegedly showed them extracts of reports that said there was no credible information about the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq prior to the March 2003 invasion. The presence of WMD in Iraq was the Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s chief argument for Danish participation in the coalition led by the United States and Britain.

According to the latest information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, the newspaper’s editor, Niels Lunde, was also charged today.

“We call on the government to drops the charges against the Berlingske Tidende journalists at once,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Journalists have a duty to publish information of general interest and they should in no way be held responsible for leaks from within any government. And anyway, how can the Danish government claim that Denmark’s security is still threatened three years later?”

The press freedom organisation added: “These charges are surprising and shocking in a country such as Denmark, which is one of the nations that most respect press freedom. They could set a dangerous precedent.”

An investigation was initiated against Bjerre and Larsen on 26 April 2004 on suspicion of “publishing information obtained illegally from a third party” under article 152-d of the criminal code. If convicted on this lesser charge, they would have faced up to six months in prison. But now they are charged with “jeopardising state security” and face the possibility of two-year prison terms.

The Berlingske Tidende union representative, Jesper Termansen, told Reporters Without Borders that the entire staff was shocked by the charges. “The two journalists did an honest piece of work,” he said. “It would a mistake for the prosecutor to press ahead with the case. If he does, democracy will be in danger in Denmark.”

Danish journalists’ union president Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard said he was “shocked” by the charges and was ready to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if his two members were convicted.

In Germany, two journalists who published a confidential German army report about Iran’s support for Al-Qaeda members were charged in March. In Switzerland, three SonntagsBlick journalists are facing prison for reporting the existence of secret CIA prisons on Swiss territory.

The Berlingkse Tidende case brings to eight the number of journalists charged with revealing state secrets in Western Europe since the start of this year.

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