Reporters Without Borders notes that a Tel Aviv court today approved the plea bargain that Haaretz reporter Uri Blau reached with the district attorney on 5 July under which he pleaded guilty to illegally possessing classified documents in exchange for a sentence of four months of community service.
Blau, who will begin serving the sentence on 11 September, could have received a sentence of up to seven years in prison under article 113-c of the penal code on a charge of "illegal possession of classified information without intending to harm state security."
"The judge’s approval of the deal reached with the district attorney is a big relief and will allow Uri Blau to avoid jail time," Reporters Without Borders said. "It ends the criminal proceedings against Blau that began in 2009 but his conviction still constitutes a flagrant violation of freedom of information in a democratic country.
"We hope this decision will have positive impact on the decision that the supreme court reaches in response to Anat Kam’s request for a review of the four-and-a-half-year jail sentence she is serving in Neve Tirza prison."
Kam was the source of the classified Israel Defence Forces documents that Blau used for several stories.
Blau told Reporters Without Borders he was "relieved, especially as the judge, when issuing his ruling, said some very strong words on the importance of investigative journalism in a democracy." He added that he hoped that Kam’s petition would receive a favourable response.
06.07.2012 - Haaretz reporter reaches plea bargain with Tel Aviv district attorney
Reporters Without Borders has deep reservations about yesterday’s announcement that a deal has been struck between the Tel Aviv district attorney and Haaretz reporter Uri Blau under which Blau will plead guilty to illegally possessing classified documents in exchange for a sentence of four months of community service.
“While we are relieved that Blau will avoid a prison sentence that could have been as much as seven years under article 113-c of the penal code, this plea bargain is highly questionable and we reiterate our call for the withdrawal of all the charges against Blau,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“Four months of community service is obviously a much less severe sentence but it still constitutes a serious violation of media freedom and sends a warning to journalists. They now know they will be taking a risk if they base a story on confidential documents. At the same time, the excessive secrecy of the Israeli military and security apparatus makes proper reporting impossible without use of classified documents.”
According to Agence France Presse (AFP), Blau will plead guilty to “possession of secret information without intending to harm state security.”
He received the classified documents, about illegal activity by the Israel Defence Forces in the Occupied Territories, from Anat Kamm, a young woman who was sentenced on 30 October 2011 to four and a half years in prison (plus 18 months suspended) for copying them while she was doing military service. Blau used them for story published on 4 December 2008
30.05.2012 : Journalist could face seven-year sentence for having secret documents
Reporters Without Borders is highly disturbed by the Israeli attorney general’s announcement that the Haaretz journalist Uri Blau will be indicted for “holding classified information without authorisation and without intention to harm the security of the state”. He could face up to seven years’ imprisonment under article 113-c of the criminal code.
“These proceedings, like the conviction of Anat Kam in October 2011, are a clear warning to all journalists who use confidential documents as the basis for their reporting,” the press freedom organization said.
“It is a worrying sign for freedom of the press in Israel. We repeat our request for the charges against Uri Blau to be dropped.
The attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, said in a statement: “Blau held, knowingly and without supervision, hundreds and thousands of documents classified as ‘secret’ and ‘top secret,’ which were stolen from the Central Command by the soldier Anat Kam, and he violated his obligation – and later his obligation before the state authorities – to stop holding them…”
In a letter to the attorney general on 3 November last year, Reporters Without Borders wrote: “Investigative journalists are the cornerstone of transparency, which is essential if a society is to function in a democratic manner. They provide a vital service. Convicting him would do grave harm to the free flow of news and information.”
It also said: “In this case, the documents involved shed a vital light on the way the IDF was operating … This is not about endangering the country’s security. It is just a question of exercising one’s right to information about a state entity.”
During her military service between 2005 and 2007, Kam, an online journalist, photocopied classified military documents about abuses by Israeli forces in the Israeli-occupied territories and passed them on to Blau.
Beginning in late 2008, Blau used these documents as the basis for several articles for his newspaper Haaretz, all of which were approved by the military censors, as required by Israeli law. One of the articles, published in November 2008, said the IDF had violated a Supreme Court decision by carrying out targeted killings of Palestinian militants who could have been arrested.
Kam was sentenced to four-and-a-half-years’ imprisonment on 30 October last year. She is currently in jail.
Photo: Tal Cohen