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United States4 January 2002

A freelance journalist jailed for having refused to reveal her sources

Update - 4 January 2002

Vanessa Legett was freed after a 168-day-detention. Her liberation is due to expiration of the mandate of the tribunal who had punished her for "contempt of court". She is under the threat to be questioned and imprisoned anew, if the judiciary investigation were to be reopened.

24 August 2001

The U.S court of appeal sitting in Houston (5th Circuit) upheld the contempt order, finding journalists do not have a right to refuse to testify in front of a grand jury. Vanessa Leggett is kept in detention. Her lawyer announced her intention to appeal against this decision.

August 13 2001

image 110 x 134 (JPEG) In a letter addressed to Attorney General John Ashcroft, Reporters sans frontières (RSF - Reporters Without Borders, protested against the detention of Vanessa Leggett, a freelance journalist and writer. The organization asked the Attorney General to do everything possible in order to release the journalist immediately and to withdraw the accusation of "contempt of court". "This decision is a serious violation of press freedom" declared RSF general secretary, Robert Ménard. He noted that the Inter-American Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression approved by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights clearly stipulates that "every social communicator has the right to keep his/her source of information, notes, and personal and professional archives confidential".

According to information collected by RSF, Vanessa Leggett, a writer and freelance journalist, was incarcerated on 20 July 2001. The day before she had been sentenced by U.S District Judge Melinda Harmond, in Houston, Texas, for "contempt of court", after having refused to reveal her notes and recordings of interviews. The interviews had been held when she was investigating the killing of a Texan millionaire’s wife, in order to write a book. Vanessa Leggett had conducted an interview with the victim’s brother-in-law, suspected of the murder, shortly before he commited suicide. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit refused to grant her bail but agreed to hear the appeal within one month. Vanessa Leggett could be detained for a maximum of eighteen months.

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