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Switzerland18 April 2007

Military court acquits three journalists with Zurich-based weekly

Reporters Without Borders hailed yesterday’s decision by a military tribunal to acquit three journalists working for the Zurich-based SonntagsBlick newspaper of violating military secrecy when they published the contents of a leaked fax about CIA prisons in Europe. The press freedom organisation said it was the only honourable outcome to a trial that should never have taken place.

“The military court displayed good judgment in this case, but the fact remains that subjecting journalists to military justice is a very serious problem,” said Gérald Sapey, the president of the Swiss branch of Reporters Without Borders. The organisation urged Swiss parliamentarians to support a resolution submitted last month by national councillor Josef Lang banning journalists from being tried before military courts.

The media union Comedia described the acquittal as a “major victory for press freedom” inasmuch as “it breaks the long list of convictions of journalists who were critical of the Federal Department of Defence and the army.”

The military prosecutor had requested fines of 4,000 euros for Christoph Grenacher, the newspaper’s editor, and 1,200 euros for Sandro Brotz and Beat Jost. In the end, as well as acquitting them, the court awarded them 12,000 euros each in compensation.

The case was prompted by SonntagsBlick’s publication on 8 January 2006 of details from an intercepted fax which the Egyptian foreign ministry had sent to its embassy in London, referring to secret CIA detention centres in Kosovo, Macedonia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. The three journalists were charged a month later with violating military secrecy, for which the maximum sentence is five years in prison.

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