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Moldova20 May 2003

Police raid offices of news organisation, seize computers and files

Reporters Without Borders today voiced outrage at a raid on the offices of the news group Flux Publications on 13 May in which police seized computers, e-mail messages and files in connection with a report alleging links between a Moldova-based Lebanese businessman and a terrorist group. Published on 20 March, the report is the subject of a libel suit brought by the businessman on 24 April.

"It is scandalous that a mere libel suit is used by the judicial authorities to raid a news organisation and thereby violate the confidentiality of journalistic sources," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to state prosecutor Vasile Rusu. "Even in the case of reports relating to such sensitive matters as the sale of arms to a terrorist group, it is unacceptable to confiscate files used by journalists in the course of their investigative work, as it turns them into judicial auxiliaries against their will."

Ménard said the organisation was also concerned that the ongoing prosecution of Flux Publications was just a ploy for "applying pressure on a news organisation that upsets the authorities by publishing investigative reports on controversial subjects." He called on the state prosecutor to do everything possible to ensure that the confiscated equipment and files are returned and that the authorities stop harassing Flux Publications’ journalists.

The article that is the subject of a libel suit by Lebanese businessman Mahmoud Hamoud, Lebanon’s former honorary consul in Chisinau, was published on 20 March in each of the Flux Publications’ three components (a news agency, a daily and a weekly). It alleged links between Hamoud and members of the Hezbollah terrorist organisation. It also reported that justice minister Ion Morei had threatened Flux journalists and had discussed ways to get the news group closed down with a third person.

Igor Burciu, the editor of Flux’s weekly, said investigators prevented the journalists from making telephone calls during the search, which took place at around 4 p.m on 13 May. At noon the next day, Moldovan secret service agents interrogated the organisation’s journalists at their place of work about the article and its author, who used the pseudonym Ion Manole.

Ever since the article was published, the prosecutor’s office has summoned Burciu and his deputy editor Vitalie Calugareanu almost every day for questioning about the sources used for the report and the author’s identify, but no charges have ever been brought against them.

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