Israel Should Drop Charges Against Haaretz Reporter Uri Blau
Leading Journalists from Global Press Freedom Network Call on Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to Reconsider
VIENNA, 18 June, 2012 – In an open letter sent today, executive members of the International Press Institute (IPI) called on Israel’s attorney general to drop charges against an investigative reporter who faces up to seven years in prison for possession of classified documents.
Signatories include 21 members of IPI’s Executive Board, who hail from all corners of the world, as well as representatives of IPI national committees in 14 countries around the world, from Austria to Korea to the United States and the United Kingdom. All agree that the prosecution of Uri Blau would “undermine press freedom in general and investigative journalism in particular” in Israel.
As IPI has previously documented, Uri Blau, a reporter for Haaretz newspaper, is set to be tried for the unauthorized possession of classified military documents, which were given to him by a young soldier. On the basis of the leaked information, Uri wrote a number of reports alleging military misconduct, which prompted an investigation into the source of the leaks. Former soldier Anat Kamm is now serving a four-and-a-half year prison term for her role in giving the documents to Blau.
The full text of the letter to Attorney General Weinstein is below.
The Honorable Yehuda Weinstein
Attorney General of Israel
Salah al - Din 29, Jerusalem 91010
June 18, 2012
We, the members of the Executive Board of the International Press Institute (IPI) and representatives of IPI’s National Committees, are writing to you today from around the world to ask that the criminal charges against investigative reporter Uri Blau, of Haaretz newspaper, be dropped.
Mr. Blau could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison if he is convicted of “aggravated espionage” for the unauthorised possession of secret information under Art. 4, Section 113(c) of the Israeli Penal Law.
According to the press release issued by your office on May 30, Mr. Blau received thousands of secret documents from former IDF soldier Anat Kamm, who was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison in October 2011 for her role in leaking the documents.
The statement from your office said that there had been a number of official considerations, “including the need to restrain the enforcement policy in order to maintain the Israeli press as a free press which fulfills its duty,” but it was determined that the “severity” of Mr. Blau’s actions warrant prosecution, according to news reports.
As members of the world’s oldest global press freedom organisation, grouping publishers, editors and journalists from around the world, we believe that the prosecution of Uri Blau for possession of classified documents will set a grave precedent for the future of Israeli journalism, especially investigative reporting.
It is our understanding that Uri Blau handled the leaked information with care, using it only to write stories that were in the public interest.
Many journalists and press freedom groups, including the International Press Institute, have repeatedly voiced their concern over the intent to prosecute Mr. Blau. Danny Zaken of the Jerusalem Association of Journalists went so far as to say that the decision “brings Israel back a generation, and casts into doubt its definition as a real democratic state”.
The documents in Mr. Blau’s possession were not republished far and wide. Even if, as you suggest, the “potential for damage in the unprotected possession of the documents was enormous,” it remained just that – potential damage. Mr. Blau did not share or transfer the documents, and has not been accused of having done so. Moreover, the articles he wrote using the information were even cleared by the military censor prior to publication.
It is inevitable that journalists covering military and political affairs around the world will end up possessing secret documents. It is vital for any democratic system that they not be prosecuted for this, in particular if, as in the case of Uri Blau, the documents are used solely to serve a strong public interest.
Recalling that in March 2012, all 27 members of IPI’s Executive Board unanimously voiced their support for Uri Blau, we therefore respectfully request that as the Attorney General of Israel you reconsider the case of Uri Blau in light of the fact that the planned prosecution would undermine press freedom in general and investigative journalism in particular, and drop all charges against this reporter immediately.
Thank you for your serious attention to this matter.
Alison Bethel McKenzie, Executive Director, International Press Institute (IPI)
IPI Executive Board Members
Carl-Eugen Eberle, Former Director of Legal Affairs, ZDF German Television, Germany
Simon Li, Former Assistant Managing Editor, Los Angeles Times, USA
Pavol Múdry, Founder and former General Manager, SITA-Slovak News Agency, Slovakia
Galina Sidorova, Chairperson, Foundation for Investigative Journalism - Foundation 19/29, Russia
Owais Aslam Ali, Chairman, Pakistan Press International (PPI), Pakistan
George Brock, Professor and Head of Journalism, City University, UK
Kiyofuku Chuma, Chief Editor, Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, Japan
Victor de la Serna, Deputy Editor, El Mundo, Spain
Alexandra Föderl-Schmid, Editor-in-Chief, Der Standard, Austria
Linus Gitahi, Group CEO, Nation Media Group, Kenya
Tom Hetland, Editor, Stavanger Aftenblad, Norway
So-Whan Hyon, Editor-in-Chief, News and News.com, South Korea
Edit Inotai, Foreign Editor, Nepszabadsag, Budapest, Hungary
Radomir Licina, Member of the Board & Senior Editor, Danas, Serbia
Mikael Pentikäinen, Publisher & Senior Editor-in-Chief, Helsingin Sanomat, Finland
N. Ravi, Director, The Hindu, India
Markus Spillmann, Editor-in-Chief, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Switzerland
Piotr Stasinski, Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Gazeta Wyborcza, Publisher, Agora SA, Poland
Dawn Thomas, Chief Executive Officer, One Caribbean Media Ltd., Trinidad & Tobago
Ferai Tinç, Former Foreign Editor and Columnist, Hürriyet, Turkey
Kabiru Yusuf, Chairman, Media Trust Ltd, Nigeria
Representatives of IPI National Committees
IPI Austria Chairperson Gerfried Sperl, Columnist, Der Standard
IPI Azerbaijan Chairperson Umud Mirzayev, Chairman, International Eurasia Press Fund
IPI Finland Chairperson Tapani Ruokanen, Editor-in-Chief, Suomen Kuvalehti
IPI Germany Chairperson Carl-Eugen Eberle, Former Director of Legal Affairs, ZDF German Television
IPI India Chairperson N. Ravi, Director, The Hindu
IPI Korea Chairperson So-Whan Hyon, Editor-in-Chief, News and News.com, South Korea
IPI Nigeria Secretary Raheem Adedoyin, Publisher, ICON Magazine
IPI Norway Chairperson Tom Hetland, Editor, Stavanger Aftenblad, Norway
IPI Pakistan Chairperson Owais Aslam Ali, Chairman, Pakistan Press International (PPI), Pakistan
IPI Slovakia Chairperson Pavol Mudry, Founder and former General Manager, SITA-Slovak News Agency, Slovakia
IPI Taiwan Chairperson Duncan Wang, President, United Daily News
IPI Turkey Chairperson Kadri Gürsel, Columnist, Milliyet
IPI United Kingdom Chairperson George Brock, Head of Journalism, City University
IPI United States Chairperson Ryan Blethen, Editorial Page Editor & Associate Publisher, The Seattle Times