Berlin, January 7, 2022 — Danish authorities should cease summoning members of the press and ensure that the media can report without legal intimidation, the Committee to Protect Journalist said today.
On January 4, the National Unit for Special Crime summoned at least seven national security reporters as witnesses in a leak investigation, according to multiple news reports and one of those journalists, Sebastian Stryhn Kjeldtoft, a reporter with daily newspaper Politiken, who communicated with CPJ via email.
The targeted journalists include Kjeldtoft as well as Politiken reporter Hans Davidsen-Nielsen; Ekstra Bladet newspaper reporter Thomas Foght; Lars Nørgaard Pedersen, a reporter with the daily Berlingske; Hans Mortensen, a reporter with the weekly Weekendavisen; and one reporter each from public radio broadcasters DR and Radio Loud, whose names were not disclosed, those news reports said.
Kjeldtoft told CPJ that he did not know “whether [the summons] pertains to certain articles we published, or for other reasons.” Authorities have not cited specific coverage from any of the outlets, those news reports said.
“It is of vital importance for journalists to be able to report freely on issues of public interest, and reporters must be able to protect their confidential sources,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Danish authorities should cease summoning journalists in this vague leak investigation, which puts reporters under unnecessary pressure and could have a chilling effect on national security reporting.”
The summons stem from a December 2021 investigation launched by the Security and Intelligence Service and Defence Intelligence Service, two Danish intelligence agencies, into alleged leaks of unspecified classified information, according to those news reports and Kjeldtoft.
On December 9, police arrested four current and former employees of those two agencies, and charged them under Section 109 of the criminal code for the unauthorized disclosure of highly classified information, which carries a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison, those news reports said.
On December 13, the Danish Police Intelligence Service and the Defense Intelligence Service warned executives from Politiken, Berlingske, and DR that media outlets would be not exempt from the sanctions under Section 109 if they disclosed highly classified information, the trade website Journalisten reported.
Kjeldtoft told CPJ that he and Davidsen-Nielsen of Politiken have decided not to appear for the summons. Politiken editor-in-chief Christian Jensen said in a statement, “it is difficult to see [the summons] as anything other than intimidation of the press.”
According to Journalisten, Lars Nørgaard Pedersen of Berlingske and Hans Mortensen of Weekendavisen have not decided whether to comply with the summons.
DR News Director Sandy French told Journalisten that the outlet’s employees plan to appear for the summons accompanied by a lawyer.
Ekstra Bladet editor-in-chief, Knud Brix told the outlet that staff would discuss the summons with their lawyers, but “will of course not endanger the protection of our sources.”
CPJ emailed the Police National Unit for Special Crime for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply.