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United States7 July 2005

Prison for Judith Miller: a dark day for freedom of the press

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It was with great sadness and concern that Reporters Without Borders learned on July 6, 2005, a federal judge ordered New York Times reporter Judith Miller to serve time in jail for contempt of court for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA operative’s name. She was taken into custody immediately. Judith Miller faces up to four months in jail, the length of time before the term of the federal grand jury in the case expires.

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Matt Cooper avoided prison after agreeing to reveal his sources in front a the grand jury. He said his source gave him a personal confidentiality waiver, allowing him to discuss their conversation.

"It is a dark day for freedom of the press in the United States and around the world. This unprecedented sentence against a journalist who was merely exercising her professional rights is a serious violation of international law, a dangerous precedent, and the United States has sent a very bad signal to the rest of the world. As a member of the Organization of American States, the United States has a duty to comply with the texts adopted by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, whose Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression clearly stipulates that every journalist has "the right to keep his/her source of information, notes, personal and professional archives confidential" (Article 8)," Reporters Without Borders stated.

Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper were sentenced to an 18-month jail term twice before by a federal appeals court for "contempt of court" because of their refusal to reveal their sources in the Valerie Plame case involving the name of the CIA operative whose identity had been revealed in the press in 2003. On June 27, the Supreme Court rejected their appeal-their last chance to avoid the sentence. On June 29, Federal Judge Thomas F. Hogan granted the two journalists a one-week delay to provide the names of their informers.

Time magazine immediately submitted all of the documents, notes and information gathered by Matthew Cooper to the court-over the journalist’s objections-while he was investigating the Plame case. However, Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald found the proposal insufficient, and during a hearing on July 5, demanded that the journalists themselves disclose their sources.

At that same hearing, the prosecutor also rejected the request made by The New York Times and Time to substitute a house arrest for a jail sentence.

From December 9, 2004 to April 9, 2005, Jim Taricani of the television station WJAR-TV (an NBC affiliated) had been confined in his home on the same grounds and prohibited from granting any interviews or using the Internet.



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