December 19, 2018

Spanish police violate confidentiality of two journalists’ sources

Spanish journalists hold a banner reading "Our professional secrecy, your right to information" during a protest to defend freedom of the press and protection of sources outside the Supreme Court in Madrid on December 14, 2018/ AFP
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the seizure of the phones and computers of two journalists by police in the Spanish city of Palma, the capital of the Balearic Islands, and calls for their immediate return. This confiscation constituted a grave violation of the confidentiality of the journalists’ sources, RSF said.

The seizure of phones, computers and files from Diario de Mallorca reporter Kiko Mestre and Europa Press reporter Blanca Pou was ordered on 11 December by a Palma judge who is investigating the leak of a police report. Both journalists specialize in covering court cases and crime.

The leaked report was about a high-profile corruption case in the Balearic Islands involving a discotheque chain owner who is reportedly protected by local police officers and politicians. The two journalists revealed details from this report in their respective media outlets in July.

In his order, the judge said the police should examine the journalists’ emails and messages on WhatsApp and other social network services.

Mestre was the first to be contacted by the authorities. He was summoned to the lawcourts in Palma, where his mobile phone was seized. The police then went to the headquarters of the Palma de Mallorca newspaper and tried to take his computer, but the newspaper’s management prevented them.

At the same time, another police team went to the Palma office of the Europa Press news agency, where they made Pou hand over her mobile phone and computer.

“We condemn this grave violation of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, which is protected by Spanish law, and we call on the judicial authorities to immediately return the equipment seized from the journalists,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk.

The two media outlets have filed complaints against the judge who ordered the seizures,  which have been condemned not only by journalists’ associations but also by many politicians of all parties. Around 50 journalists also demonstrated outside the supreme court in defence of the confidentiality of sources.

Spain is ranked 31st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.