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HFHR: surveillance of journalists meant to circumvent reporter’s privilege

The Helsinki Foundation has presented a position statement on the case involving the surveillance of the reporters who investigated the “wiretapping scandal”.

The Rzeczpospolita daily reports that two police task forces have illegally been eavesdropping on the journalists and members of their families. Following the conclusion of an audit, disciplinary proceedings have been initiated against seven officers from a team that assisted the prosecution service in the proceedings concerning illegal recordings of politicians’ conversations. Also, a number of Internal Affairs Department officers have been investigated.

“The HFHR wishes to underscore that any illegal surveillance of journalists in a state ruled by law is impermissible. Eavesdropping on reporters’ conversations by law enforcement officers may also result in circumventing the safeguards under the reporter’s privilege, a necessary condition for the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

The information obtained by the law enforcement authorities may be used to identify journalists’ sources. The ECtHR has repeatedly emphasised in its rulings that such actions violate a basic condition for the enjoyment of the freedom of the press. They may result in the weakening of the role of the press’ as a controller of public activities.

In the statement, the HFHR emphasises that putting journalists and their sources under surveillance enables authorities to circumvent a journalist’s right to refuse to disclose information, thereby rendering the protective guarantees for reporters’ sources of information virtually non-existent. Waiver of the reporter’s privilege, on the other hand, should be used only in connection with the prosecution of gravest crimes.

“Since the case is socially important and involves very dangerous practices of eavesdropping on citizens, results of the proceedings should be communicated to the public”, reads the statement.

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