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Germany17 March 2006

Government urged to extend right to confidentiality of sources after two journalists charged

Reporters Without Borders today urged the German authorities to extend the right to protection of sources to investigative journalists after freelancer Bruno Schirra and Johannes von Dohnanyi, the head of the foreign section of the Swiss weekly SonntagsBlick, were charged by the Potsdam prosecutor’s office on 15 March with “complicity in divulging a state secret.”

Schirra is alleged to have divulged information contained in a confidential German police report about the Al-Qaeda network that was passed to him by Von Dohnanyi. The information was supposedly revealed in a report Schirra wrote for the political magazine Cicero. The two journalists are to be tried by a criminal court.

The police searched the magazine’s offices five months after the article was published, thereby violating the right to confidentiality of information enshrined in articles 10 and 19 of the German constitution.

Reporters Without Borders said it welcomed initiatives currently being undertaken by the Liberal Party and Green Party in the Bundestag with a view to introducing greater protection for journalists and their sources in the criminal code.

The press freedom organisation firmly condemned the charges brought by the prosecutor’s office and its refusal to consider that the right to protection of sources applied in the case. The organisation urged the authorities to take account of the importance for the public of the information revealed, supporting the existence of links between Iran and one of Al-Qaeda’s leaders in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Reporters Without Borders therefore called on the authorities to drop the proceedings against Schirra and Von Dohnanyi. The police raids and the charges were diverting attention from the fact that the leak seem to come from within a German government department and seemed designed to prevent journalists from using anonymous sources, the organisation added.

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