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Italy26 May 2005

Protection of sources trampled on by search at offices of Corriere della Sera

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Reporters Without Borders said it was shocked by an attack on journalists’ right to protect sources in a European country after a public prosecutor authorised a search of the offices of Milan daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The search followed a 25 May front page article headlined, "Iraq, the guerrilla’s Italian gun. Mystery of the phantom Beretta". It revealed that local prosecutors were investigating the use of Beretta guns, found in Iraq by US forces, including in possession of al-Qaeda fighters.

"We urge the judicial authorities to respect the principle of protection of sources which is guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"There can be no exception to the protection of sources, in the same way as for confidentiality of investigation. We wish to express our solidarity with the entire editorial team of Corriere della Sera to which we give our unconditional support, as judicial authorities press editorial staff to reveal their sources."

On the day the article appeared the public ministry spent an hour interviewing the journalist who wrote the article, Nunzia Vallini, as well as the newspaper’s editor Gianluca Di Feo. Milan’s fraud squad turned up at the daily’s offices at 8.30pm, along with a magistrate with a search warrant, signed by Brescia public prosecutor, Giancarlo Tarquini.

They searched through computers, offices and papers belonging to journalists working in general news, looking for the sources that gave the journalist the information used in the article and to identify possible "leaks" in the investigation carried out by Brescia prosecutors in the Beretta case.

According to the journalist, the prosecutors, using information provided by US secret services, were investigating the use of Beretta-type semi-automatic guns in Iraq, either without serial numbers or with numbers that were unreadable. Guerrilla fighters were reportedly using these weapons against coalition forces in Iraq.

The journalist revealed that the Italian firm that makes Beretta guns had apparently signed contracts in the 1980s to provide Iraq with old models 70 and 51. Those found by the US forces were however apparently of a more recent model, the 92. The article quoted US secret services as saying members of al-Qaeda had been arrested in possession of these Beretta 92, 4,000 of which were found in Saddam Hussein’s palaces following the US-led intervention in Iraq.

The article specified that the Beretta 92 guns could have been manufactured in other countries than Italy, such as Brazil, China or the United States.

"It is a repellent judicial gesture that is contrary to the free practise of journalism", the newspaper said in a statement published in its 26 May edition.

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