Reporters Without Borders has joined the Media Monitoring Agency and three other press freedom watchdogs in calling for charges to be dropped against two daily newspaper journalists in the case of a CD relating to Romanian army action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sebastian Oancea of Ziua and Marian Garleanu, of Romania Libera learned on 20 February that the defence ministry was pressing charges for possessing and divulging contents of a CD which the authorities have classified as defence secrets.
Garleanu and Oancea face up to seven years in prison if they are found guilty. No date has yet been fixed for the trial.
The editorial management of both papers had decided on 7 February not to publish information from the CD, instead sending it to the Romanian secret services.
The leak appears to have come from the army itself. A soldier, who was arrested in the Vrancea region in the south of the country on 9 February is the only person to have been implicated in the case. He was released ten days later.
Police arrested Marian Garleanu, a correspondent in the region, on 16 February and wrongly held her in custody for two days before releasing her.
Four journalists from the same newspapers, Bogdan Comaroni, Doru Dragomir, Victor Roncea, and Ovidiu Ohanesian, who also handled the CD, have been summoned to appear as witnesses in the case.
Reporters Without Borders and the four local organisations said the charges were unacceptable and urged the judicial authorities to drop the charges.
The press freedom organisation called for the law on protection of sources to be applied and recalled that Romanian law on protecting defence secrets specifies that it only applies to officials.
Statement by the five press freedom organisations
Bucharest, 24 February 2006
Reporters Without Borders, Media Monitoring Agency, Center for Independent Journalism, Media Organizations Convention, and MediaSind Trade Union express their profound concern for the abuses against journalists perpetrated by the prosecutors investigating the leak of classified military documents.
After Marian Garleanu, Romania Libera daily correspondent in Vrancea County was detained for two days, another Vrancea based journalist, Sebastian Oancea, was indicted for having possessed and transmitted classified information.
Investigating, indicting, and arresting journalists who came into the possession of allegedly classified documents is abusive and illegal and violates and stipulation of the Classified Information Law 182/2002 that provides that only the authorized persons are responsible for protecting classified information. The prosecutors abusively use the stipulations of a law of Stalinist inspiration (National Security Law 51/1991) passed prior to the passing of the Constitution and disregard the provisions of Law 182/2002 that abrogates all the legal contrary provisions, including Paragraph 4 of Article 169 of the Penal Code.
As a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Romanian state must observe the text of the Convention and the jurisprudence of the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR). This is also stipulated in the Constitution of Romania (Article 20, Paragraph 2). ECHR ruled that « the information pertaining to national security once entered into the public area cannot be forbidden or withdrawn, nor can the authors of their dissemination be punished ». Legal precedents in this respect are the cases of the Observer, Guardian or Sunday Times newspapers vs. the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ECHR ruled in favor of the newspapers that had published classified information despite the interdiction of the British Justice.
The actions undertaken by the Prosecutor‚s Office are likely to intimidate the entire journalistic community by the pressure exercised upon journalists in order to make them reveal their sources. This contradicts the professional right of journalists to protect their sources. We call on the journalists to maintain their professional dignity and not to become « informers » even if they are harassed by State institutions.
The journalist can be forced to reveal the sources only if three conditions are fulfilled cumulatively: the authorities must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the journalists holds essential information for that respective case, the public interest in the revealing of the source must be more important than the confidential relation between the journalist and the source, and the journalist must be the only source of that respective information.
Besides, the journalists proved their responsibility when they chose not to publish that information, that wasn‚t, however, marked as classified. Moreover, they announced the authorities about the existence of these documents and were even congratulated for this by the Ministry of Defense. Nevertheless, according to a declaration made the National Defense Minister, those respective documents « don't pose a threat to the Romanian Army because it‚s information from the past, two years and a half ago, therefore this is not an issue to put the Romanian Army at danger ».
Last, but not least, we express our surprise that meanwhile there are two journalists indicted, the prosecutors succeeded to indict just one person from the bodies in charge with protecting classified information.
The undersigned organizations ask the Prosecutor‚s Office to immediately cease the criminal prosecution of journalists Marian Garleanu and Sebastian Oancea and to stop harassing other journalists. We consider that this kind of actions undertaken by public institutions are in fact those endangering the national security, as they seriously violate human rights and undermine Romania‚s integration process to the European Union.
Reporters Without Borders
Media Monitoring Agency - Academia Catavencu
Center for Independent Journalism
Media Organizations Convention
MediaSind Trade Union