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United Kingdom3 August 2007

London appeal court quashes judge’s gagging order

Reporters Without Borders today hailed a London appeal court’s decision on 30 July to quash a gagging order issued by judge Richard Aikens during a trial last May that banned the press from referring in their reports of the trial to the content of a leaked memo about a meeting between Tony Blair and George W. Bush in 2004.

“We are pleased that the appeal brought by the BBC, The Guardian and 15 other British news media has resulted in a legal decision that preserves press freedom,” the organisation said.

The judge issued the gagging order during the trial of David Keogh, a government press officer, and Leo O’Connor, a Labour Party researcher, who were given jail terms for violating the Official Secrets Act.

The case dates back to April 2004, when Keogh copied the memo, which bore the Downing Street letterhead and the warning “Secret-Personal,” and passed it to O’Connor, who put it in a file which he gave to his employer, Labour Party parliamentarian Anthony Clark. Clark told Downing Street about the leak, but the memo’s alleged contents nonetheless ended up being revealed by the Daily Mirror on 22 November 2005.

The memo was about a meeting between British Prime Minister Blair and US President Bush in Washington on 16 April 2004 in which Bush reportedly raised the possibility of bombing Al-Jazeera and Blair argued against it. The White House has described this account of the meeting as “preposterous” and “unconceivable. A Blair spokesman insisted that it did not refer to “the bombing of the TV station Al-Jazeera in Qatar.”

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