Court: Search of German magazine illegal

27th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

27 February 2007, Karlsruhe, Germany (dpa) - A police search of the offices of a German magazine was in breach of freedom of the press, Germany's Constitutional Court said Tuesday in a landmark ruling. Federal police copied a computer hard-drive at the Berlin political magazine Cicero as they hunted someone, possibly in their own ranks, who had leaked a national police file in April. It had been used in an article about the terrorist Abu-Musab al-Sarqawi, who was killed by US troops in Iraq last June. He r

27 February 2007

Karlsruhe, Germany (dpa) - A police search of the offices of a German magazine was in breach of freedom of the press, Germany's Constitutional Court said Tuesday in a landmark ruling.

Federal police copied a computer hard-drive at the Berlin political magazine Cicero as they hunted someone, possibly in their own ranks, who had leaked a national police file in April.

It had been used in an article about the terrorist Abu-Musab al-Sarqawi, who was killed by US troops in Iraq last June. He ran an offshoot in Iraq of al-Qaeda which regularly slit hostages' throats.

In a 7-1 decision, the judges in Karlsruhe who have the task of interpreting the German constitution said the September 2005 search was wrong because the journalists themselves were not formally suspected of breaking the law.

"Searches and seizures against media people as part of a formal inquiry are unconstitutional if they are purely or mainly intended to detect the identity of an informant," presiding judge Hans-Juergen Papier said.

The case had been brought by Wolfram Weimer, the editor of Cicero, after a state court had ruled that the search, originally conducted under a warrant from a Potsdam magistrate, was legal. Police seized disks and made a copy of a journalist's hard-drive.

The government had been annoyed to see part of a classified federal-police file quoted in an article in Cicero by a journalist, Bruno Schirra. Federal Crime Office police are responsible for detecting terrorists in Germany.

The Karlsruhe judges said Tuesday journalists who published classified documents could face punishment for assisting in a breach of official secrecy, but the mere fact of publication was not enough to justify a search of a journalist's office or home.

The judges said the constitution granted journalists a privilege to keep their sources secret. It said prosecutors could not fish for evidence unless they already had "specific evidence" that the source had intended the publication of the secret.

Such an intention would not be assumed if the official spoke "off the record" or if the document had been released by mistake.

Cicero is a monthly magazine on political issues published from Potsdam near Berlin.

A German justice ministry secretary, Lutz Diwell, in Berlin said it was a "landmark" ruling and criminal-procedure rules would be amended before the end of June in the light of it.

Hans Leyendecker, head of an investigative journalists' association, Netzwerk Recherche, said it confirmed the normal legal protection applying to reporters.

Prosecutors in Potsdam said Tuesday after the ruling that they had themselves been divided about whether the search was constitutional.

"It is good that the legal position has been settled," said a prosecutor, Wilfried Lehmann.

DPA

Subject: German news

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