Reporters Without Borders

Constitutional court ruling favours journalist’s right to protect their sources

Published on Wednesday 28 February 2007. Updated on Thursday 1 March 2007.
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Reporters Without Borders hailed a ruling yesterday by the German constitutional court that a federal police raid in September 2005 on the offices of Cicero, a political magazine that had published details from a leaked police report about Al-Qaeda, and the copying of data from its computers were “unconstitutional.”

“We welcome this decision,” the press freedom organisation said. “Journalists who use information passed to them by their sources should not be prosecuted, otherwise they cannot to fulfill the role they are meant to play in a democracy, which is to seek out information and to question governments.”

Reporters Without Borders continued: “However, we think that more must be done to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and we urge the authorities to do what is necessary to ensure that paragraph 353b of the criminal code, which punishes ‘complicity in the disclosure of state secrets,’ no longer applies to journalists.”

The organisation added: “The police should no longer be able to tap journalists’ phones, contrary to the ruling issued by Germany’s highest court on 12 March 2003, and in the meantime, a precise definition of the ‘grave’ cases justifying such monitoring should have to be supplied.”

Cicero published extracts from a confidential police report about Al-Qaeda in April 2005. Five months later, the police raided the magazine and the home of the journalist who wrote the article. In so doing, they violated the right to the confidentiality of information as guaranteed in paragraph 53 of the code of criminal procedure.

The constitutional court began to consider the case on 22 November in response to an appeal by the magazine’s editor, Wolfram Weimer, who said the raid was a violation of press freedom. In the ruling issued today, the court said Weimer was right, basing its decision on the fact that the journalists were not themselves suspected of breaking any law.

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