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Police stand between journalists and the Spanish public prosecutor outside the courthouse of Palma de Mallorca on the island of Mallorca in February, 2017. Police in December 2018 confiscated equipment and documents from two news outlets in connection to a leak investigation. (Jaime Reina/AFP)

Spanish police search newsroom, seize journalists' equipment in leaks investigation

December 13, 2018 5:50 PM ET

Berlin, December 13, 2018--Spanish authorities should immediately return equipment and documentation seized from the news agency Europa Press and from journalists working for the Diario de Mallorca daily newspaper and ensure that journalists can protect the confidentiality of their sources, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Spanish police on December 11 searched the newsroom of Europa Press in Palma de Mallorca, on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, seizing documents and equipment as part of an investigation into leaked police information, Spanish daily newspaper El País reported. Europa Press said police presented a court order demanding the editor hand over any documentation concerning a large-scale corruption case on which the news agency recently reported using unnamed police sources. The editor of the news agency, Antonia Lopez, referred to the journalists` right to protect their sources and refused the police`s request, El País reported. According to Europa Press, police then seized a personal mobile phone, two of the company's computers, and several paper documents in order to determine the origin of the leak.

According to Spanish news website ABC España, later the same day police showed up in the newsroom of the local daily Diario de Mallorca, which had also reported on the corruption case. However, the police left after the newspaper informed them that it would not voluntarily hand over any material, ABC España reported. Yesterday, María Ferrer, the director of Diario de Mallorca, told Spanish TV station Antena 3 that the police had already seized two personal mobile phones with sensitive information belonging to two journalists of the daily newspaper earlier that morning, independently from the visit to the newsroom. She also told Antena 3 that the police did not present a court order during their visit to the newsroom.

"We call on the Spanish authorities to ensure the protection of journalistic sources, which is the cornerstone of the profession," said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ's program director, in New York. "The decision to confiscate the reporters' devices and materials is an unacceptable attempt to intimidate them and curb their reporting on corruption."

El País reported today that Diario de Mallorca and Europa Press will jointly file a complaint against the police action. Outside the Diario de Mallorca headquarters, journalists held a small demonstration yesterday, holding up their mobile phones to demand the authorities respect their professional confidentiality, the Diario de Mallorca reported. More than 650 journalists from all over Spain signed a document submitted today to the General Council of the Judiciary in which they urged the governing body of judges to defend the fundamental rights of journalists against the "unusual and unjustified" attack on press freedom in Mallorca, Europa Press reported.

The Spanish police said the investigation is not into the conduct of the two news outlets or the journalists but into the origin of the alleged leak of information from the police, Europa Press reported. The Mallorcan police declined to comment on the case when CPJ reached them by phone today.

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