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Belgium20 March 2004

Police search home and office of journalist who exposed fraud

Reporters Without Borders today denounced a court-ordered search of the belongings of a journalist, who has exposed fraud in European institutions, as a violation of the media’s right not to reveal sources of information, which it called "vital for the practice of independent investigative journalism."

Brussels police, armed with a local court order, raided the home and office on 19 March of Hans-Martin Tillack, Brussels correspondent of the German weekly magazine Stern, who is being investigated for allegedly "corrupting a public official."

"We remind you that the European Court of Human Rights considers searches of a journalist’s home or office as violations of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights unless there is a ’pressing social need,’" said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Belgian royal prosecutor Paul Degryse. "We demand that the journalist’s belongings be returned to him immediately."

Tillack is under investigation by a Brussels court for "corrupting a civil servant" after a complaint filed by the European Union’s anti-fraud office OLAF accusing him of paying EU officials for information about supposed EU corruption that he reported in Stern in 2002.

Police raided his home at 7 in the morning and seized computer equipment, his mobile phone and many documents. The magazine’s offices at the Brussels International Press Centre were also searched and his computer, phones and files there also seized. He was interrogated by police, who freed him at the end of the day.

The management of Stern said OLAF’s accusations were unfounded and that neither Tillack or the magazine had paid anything for the information. "This is an attack on press freedom," said Boris Wintzenburg, of the magazine’s political desk, who said it may also be linked to a recent article by Tillack about corruption in the European Parliament.

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