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Italy18 August 2006

Searches of two newspaper offices criticised in kidnap probe

Italian version

Reporters Without Borders today deplored police searches of the offices of the daily papers Repubblica in Rome and Milan and Piccolo in Trieste and said it was “unacceptable” that journalists were being treated as police assistants.

“We are alarmed at the attitude of the judiciary, which is freely violating the secrecy of sources of investigative journalists,” it said. “The searches were meant to get hold of this information by force.”

A dozen police searched the Milan offices of Repubblica for 11 hours on 11 August on the orders of Brescia city prosecutor Giancarlo Tarquini as part of an investigation into the February 2002 CIA kidnapping of an imam. The office of journalist Cristina Zagaria was especially searched and police took away papers and notes and copied material off her computer. The house of her and her companion, journalist Carlo Bonini, was also searched and his computer seized, even though he was not involved in the legal investigation.

Late the same night, police searched the paper’s main offices in Rome for four hours. The Piccolo offices were searched for six hours, and the home of journalist Claudio Ernè was thoroughly combed.

Zagaria and Ernè have been accused of “violating legal confidentiality rules” and “handling secret documents” under article 648 of the criminal code as part of a lawsuit by Trieste’s SISMI (military intelligence) chief Lorenzo Pillinini, who accused them of quoting in the press remarks he made during an interrogation concerning the kidnapping of former Milan imam Abu Omar by CIA agents in Italy. Italian secret police cooperation with the CIA has not yet been proven.

Prosecutor Tarquini told during a press conference that the newspaper searches were “personal and precisely targeted” and did not involve other journalists on the papers. “Press freedom was not attacked,” he said.

The editorial board of Piccolo said that some of the media was under “difficult pressure and harassment.” Repubblica editors said they were “disturbed, astonished and worried for the independence of the media.” Serventi Longhi, secretary-general of the Italian Journalists’ Federation (FNSI), said there was “definitely a hostile attitude to journalists in the country, created by some politicians and judges.”

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