17 journalists investigated for publishing intelligence documents

New York, August 7, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about a criminal investigation the German government has launched against 17 journalists. They are accused of publishing information from classified documents related to CIA rendition flights and suspected misconduct by the German secret services in Baghdad during the 2003 U.S. invasion, according to The Associated Press. A German committee specifically set up to investigate the renditions and misconduct was trying to keep the documents classified.

“We are deeply worried about the criminal proceedings launched against our German colleagues and call on state prosecutors to drop the probe immediately,” CPJ’s Executive Director Joel Simon said. “With respect to the sensitivity of the information published, whoever leaked the classified documents should be investigated, not the journalists. It is their duty to publish matters of public interest. They should not be criminally charged for doing their job.”

Berlin prosecutors confirmed Friday that an investigation had been launched, said the German Ard Television Network, which broke the story. All the accused journalists work for leading national publications, such as the Hamburg-based weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel (The Mirror), the Munich-based daily Süddeutsche Zeitung (South German Newspaper), the Hamburg-based weekly newspaper Die Zeit (The Times), and the Berlin-based daily Die Welt (The Word), according to international press reports.

Besides rendition flights, which had layovers in Germany, the German committee is also studying the conduct of its country’s secret services in Baghdad during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003; the controversial 2003 kidnapping in Macedonia of German citizen of Lebanese origin Khalid el-Masri, and his alleged abuse by CIA officers in Afghanistan before his 2004 release in Albania; and the five-year-long detention at Guantanamo Bay of Germany-born Turkish citizen Murat Kurnaz, the AP reported.

This is not the first criminal investigation launched against German reporters accused of publishing classified information. In September 2005, Berlin police raided the home of freelance journalist Bruno Schirra and confiscated his entire research archive. The Federal Office of Criminal Investigation investigated Schirra after he profiled al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the April 2005 edition of the Potsdam monthly Cicero. Authorities claimed that al-Zarqawi’s mobile phone number, included in the story, came from a classified federal document. Prosecutors accused Schirra of enlisting a federal official to violate secrecy laws.