Reporters Without Borders is concerned about what may lie in store for British journalist and WikiLeaks editor Sarah Harrison if she decides to return to the United Kingdom after spending several months in Moscow with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
In a statement posted on the WikiLeaks website on 6 November, Harrison said she had left Russia and was now in Germany, where she has joined a group of Berlin-based journalists and activists, including Laura Poitras and Jacob Applebaum, who are investigating NSA surveillance practices.
On her arrival in Berlin on 2 November, WikiLeaks’ lawyers strongly advised her not to return to the United Kingdom.
“David Miranda’s detention at Heathrow Airport in August under the Terrorism Act and the nine-hour interrogation that ensued have given us an idea of the welcome that could await Sarah Harrison in Britain.” Reporters Without Borders said.
“The British authorities must give assurances to Harrison that she can return to her country safely if she wishes. The Terrorism Act and defence of national security must not be used as grounds for harassing journalists who investigate sensitive subjects.”
In September, at the height of the controversy about Miranda’s arrest, two United Nations experts expressed alarm about the British government’s use of national security concerns to intimidate journalists.
Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression, said: “The protection of national security secrets must never be used as an excuse to intimidate the press into silence and backing off from its crucial work in the clarification of human rights violations. The press plays a central role in the clarification of human rights abuses.”
Nonetheless, the British government’s broad interpretation of the Terrorism Act tends to regard all forms of journalism based on leaked “classified” information as terrorism, even if there is considerable public interest in the information being made known.
Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, said: “I urge the British authorities to review their operations to ensure that they comply fully with the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the right to liberty and security, and the right to respect for private and family life.”
In General Comment No. 34, an interpretation of article 19 (on freedom of opinion and expression) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee’s experts said in 2011 that national security laws should not be used to “prosecute journalists, researchers, environmental activists, human rights defenders or others” for disseminating “information of legitimate public interest” (Paragraph 30, CCPR/c/gc/34).