European Challenge To Denmark Over Charges Against Reporters Who Exposed Iraq War Policy

Journalists’ leaders from across Europe have protested to the Danish Government over two journalists who face prosecution because they blew the whistle on advice being given to the Government over whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before last years invasion of the country.

The European Federation of Journalists, bringing together unions and associations from 30 countries, held its triennial congress in Thessaloniki, Greece, at the weekend and unanimously agreed to write to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen calling on him to raise concerns over the case of two journalists from Berlingske Tidende who have been charged because they published the contents of confidential documents leaked by a civil servant of the Danish Defence Intelligence Service.

The documents were advisory notices to the government on whether Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and that the confidential reports had the purpose of enabling the Danish Government and the Danish Parliament to made the decision of going to war against Iraq or not.

“This question has been at the centre of the public debate on the crucial matter of whether the war in Iraq was justified or not,” said Arne König, the newly-elected Chair of the European Federation. “This is information of great public concern and the journalists have done an important service to the quality of the debate in Denmark and it is appalling that they should be charged.”

The EFJ in a letter to the Prime Minister says journalists coming upon material such as these confidential reports have a duty to publish them unless there is a very clear and increased danger to the safety and welfare of other public or private interests.

“This is one case where this professional duty is evident and where no legal impediment to free journalism is justified,” says the EFJ, which also argues for protection for the whistle-blower in this case.

Although the EFJ recognises the Prime Minister cannot directly intervene with the activities of the public prosecutor, it is calling on him to “follow this case with the closest possible attention, to raise the concerns that we have outlined with the responsible authorities and to take all the steps necessary to avoid the prosecution of the two journalists.”

If Denmark does go ahead, the EFJ has warned that it will support taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights as a breach of Article 10 on the freedom of expression, information and the press.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries