The case of two British journalists raided by armed police and arrested under official secrecy laws will be the focus of a summit meeting on protection of journalists' sources to be attended by journalists' leaders from 30 countries in Prague this weekend.
The arrest of Liam Clarke, Northern Editor of The Sunday Times and Kathryn Johnston, the co-authors of an unofficial biography of Sinn Féin leader Martin McGuinness MP, followed searches at their home and offices on April 30th.
Police took away computers and documents in a raid, which the International Federation of Journalists claims was a "breathtaking assault on press freedom and a blatant attempt to intimidate journalists." Although questioned by police, the couple has not been charged. The IFJ says the case is the latest example of a growing trend by the authorities around Europe to harass investigative journalists.
"In Northern Ireland the pressure on investigative journalists has reached alarming proportions," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, "We are still waiting for the authorities to find and charge the killers of reporter Martin O'Hagan, who was assassinated almost two years ago by terrorists determined to stop his investigations of collusion between security forces and paramilitary groups."
The IFJ says the latest case, adds to fears that all sides in Northern Ireland have scant regard for the rights of journalists. "If people succeed to stifle legitimate journalistic investigation it will be devastating for press freedom and democracy."
The arrest of Clarke and Johnston, who were released on bail, follows publication in The Times and Irish News of excerpts of transcripts of telephone calls between British political figures Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams MP. The calls were tapped, allegedly by police at the request of the British secret service, MI5.
"Some of this information may embarrass some people," said White, "but the public right to know is more important than the red faces in high places."
The Prague meeting, organised by the European Federation of Journalists, will take up the case and others from Denmark, Germany, and Luxembourg. "Everywhere we see the authorities trying to force journalists to say who they are talking to and where they get information from," said White. "It is a scandalous trend that undermines the fabric of ethical and professional freedom in Europe."
The meeting will adopt a campaign strategy to assist journalists to challenge official pressure and to enhance existing levels of protection for journalists. "Journalism lives by the quality and protection of sources of information," said White, "If journalists break confidentiality rules, their sources will disappear and democracy will be the loser."