13 November 2006


Three journalists charged with "harming state security", face possible two-year prison sentence

Incident details

Niels Lunde, Michael Bjerre, Jesper Larsen


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(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemned the trial that began on 13 November 2006 in Copenhagen in which the editor of the "Berlingske Tidende" daily newspaper, Niels Lunde, and two of his reporters, Michael Bjerre and Jesper Larsen, are accused of "harming state security" by publishing leaked Danish intelligence about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq.

It is the first time this charge has been brought against journalists in Denmark, which has one of the world's best records on press freedom. The three "Berlingske Tidende" journalists face sentences of up to two years in prison in the trial, which is not expected to produce a verdict before the end of November.

"We are surprised by the decision to try them on this charge, which is unprecedented in Denmark," Reporters Without Borders said. "We hope they will be acquitted. If not, the trial will set an extremely prejudicial precedent for press freedom."

The organisation continued: "We point out that journalists have a duty to act in the general interest. In this case, their revelations allowed the public to evaluate Denmark's decision to join the US-led coalition in Iraq in a new light as they showed that, in 2003, there was no confirmation of the presence of WMD in Iraq."

Reporters Without Borders added: "Frank Grevil, the military intelligence officer who leaked passages from classified reports to them, was tried and sentenced to four months in prison last year. The journalists cannot be blamed for the defence ministry leaks."

The leaked passages, published in articles on 22 and 23 February and 7 March 2004, said there was no credible information about the existence of WMD in Iraq prior to the March 2003 invasion. Nonetheless, it was Iraq's alleged possession of WMD that was Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's chief argument for Danish participation in the coalition.

An investigation was initiated against Bjerre and Larsen on 26 April 2004 as the authors of the articles on suspicion of "publishing information obtained illegally from a third party" under article 152-d of the criminal code. If convicted on this lesser charge, they would have faced up to six months in prison. But they and their editor are now being tried on the more serious charge of "harming state security."

The "Berlingkse Tidende" case brings to nine the number of journalists charged with revealing state secrets in Western Europe since the start of 2006.


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