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Switzerland7 February 2007

Three journalists to be tried before military court for publishing leaked fax about CIA prisons

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a Swiss military court’s announcement yesterday that it has indicted three Swiss journalists working for the weekly SonntagsBlick for publishing a leaked document on 8 January 2006 “dealing with supposed places of detention and interrogation methods used by the US foreign intelligence service (CIA).”

The three journalists - Christoph Grenacher (who is about to leave the newspaper), Sandro Brotz and Beat Jost - will face up to five years in prison for “violating defence secrecy” under article 106, section 1, of the military criminal code when they are tried in April in the northern city of St. Gall.

According to the indictment, publication of the leaked document caused considerable damage to Switzerland’s strategic intelligence service. A military justice spokesman said that: “In order to maintain secretary, the questioning of the defendants, the testimony of witnesses and the presentation of the cases for the prosecution and defence will probably take place behind closed doors.”

Reporters Without Borders said it questioned the legitimacy of the decision try the journalists before a military court after the idea of a civil prosecution was abandoned.

“We deplore this threat to the practice of journalism in a democracy such as Switzerland and we point out that Switzerland was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for violating article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention over a similar case in the past,” the press freedom organisation said. “We very much hope the military court will issue a verdict that is favourable to press freedom.”

The offending SonntagsBlick article confirmed the existence of US detention centres in Europe and was based on a fax from the Egyptian foreign ministry which had been intercepted by Swiss military intelligence and then leaked to the three journalists.

“It was journalistically and politically judicious to publish this document,” Botz said. Classified as a “defence secret,” it was the first confirmation of the existence of CIA prisons in Europe. A separate military prosecution is bring brought against the persons who allegedly leaked it. The spokesman of the intelligence service was investigated by the public prosecutor’s office, but the case was not pursued. The military prosecutors are, however, pursing the case.

Read the ECHR ruling in English

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