Reporters Without Borders

Call for the decriminalization of press offences

Published on Thursday 27 April 2006.
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Welcoming European Court of Human Rights rulings on 25 April in favour of two Swiss journalists who were prosecuted by their government, Reporters Without Borders calls for the swift repeal of article 293 of the Swiss criminal code, a vestige of the era when heavy curbs were placed on press freedom.

The rulings, concerning a 1997 article by Martin Stoll in the weekly Sonntags-Zeitung about Swiss ambassador Carlo Jagmetti and a 1997 article by Viktor Dammann in the daily Blick, rectify a Swiss federal court decision that over-emphasized the crime of inciting an official to disclose a secret, to the detriment of an article on the protection of sources.

Reporters Without Borders strongly supports a motion by Green Party parliamentarian Josef Lang demanding the repeal of article 293 punishing the “publication of secret official debates,” under which Stoll was convicted.

This article, which as been a source of controversy for decades, led to three legal procedures against two news media in January alone. It violates article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Basic freedoms, which concerns free expression. The Swiss Federal Council itself proposed repealing article 293 in 1996, but this was rejected a year later by the National Council and the Council of States.

The European Court of Human Rights rulings underscore the interest of all democratic societies in ensuring and maintaining press freedom and should finally enable an improvement in the situation in Switzerland in this area, putting it on a par with other modern, democratic countries.

Reporters Without Borders also welcomes the fact that these rulings unequivocally stress that the essential purpose of the news media is to bring to public awareness all the necessary elements for forming opinion, as long as professional ethics and conduct are observed.

Robert Ménard Secretary-General

Thérèse Obrecht, Secretary-General, Reporters Without Borders Switzerland

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