Czech Journalist Not Guilty Under Czech Secret Act

The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists' organization and its regional group the European Federation of Journalists, has welcomed the court victory of Czech journalist Tomas Smrcek who was declared not guilty under the Czech Secret Act on 15 June.

Smrcek faced eight years in prison for displaying a confidential government document during a 1994 television interview on a private station. The document apparently proved that a political candidate who later became chief of the State Security Service (BIS) had improperly tried to clear a friend of drunk-driving charges. Smrcek's trial began in mid-November 2000.

The IFJ had previously called on the Czech government, parliament, and Supreme Court to recognize public interest as a legal defense for publishing classified information. Senate Deputy Chairman Jan Ruml, who attended the closed trial, said the protection of classified data "cannot be abused to the detriment of a journalist who is obliged to inform the public."

The court decision follows a resolution adopted by the IFJ World Congress in Seoul, on Official Secrecy in the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic. The IFJ renewed calls on both governments to replace Official Secrecy laws with a law containing a restricted definition of national security and protecting the rights of whistleblowers. "Governments must recognise public interest as a legal category that can be used in defence of publication of secret documents in line with the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights", said the IFJ.

In addition, the IFJ Congress noted the case of David Shayler who is about to face trial under the British Official Secret Act, and calls on the British Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor to drop the charges against David Shayler.

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