Saturday, September 07, 2013

Switzerland: Swiss police search investigative journalist's home, seize computer equipment


World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

The European Newspaper Publishers' Association (ENPA), the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), and the World Editors Forum have condemned the actions of a Swiss prosecutor in seizing source material and searching the home of prominent Le Matin journalist Ludovic Rocchi, warning of the resultant implications for press freedom in the country.

“The independence of journalists and the protection of their sources are essential to their work and, if compromised, risk silencing investigative journalism and encouraging self-censorship. The repercussions for democracy, transparency and accountability are greatly disturbing,” the organisations said in a letter to Swiss Prosecutor General Pierre Aubert.

Mr. Rocchi's private residence was searched in the early hours of 13 August, with police confiscating computer equipment and notebooks. Mr. Rocchi's wife, who was present during the raid, was reportedly questioned about her husband's professional activities.

Following legal advice from his newspaper, Mr. Rocchi's computer was officially sealed before he surrendered it later the same morning to investigators who had called at the hotel where he was staying on assignment.

Mr Rocchi has been instrumental in exposing bad practice and suspected plagiarism at the University of Neuchâtel. His investigations, published by Le Matin newspaper, led to an official inquiry into the institution. As a result, he faces charges of defamation, slander and violation of secrecy that were brought by one of the University's directors - accusations that Mr. Rocchi denies.

Such a heavy-handed police response is unprecedented for an investigation of this nature. “Only in extreme cases, when serious crimes have been committed and where indisputable evidence requires it, should the seizure of journalistic materials be considered,” continued the letter.

By the prosecutor's own admission, evidence pointing to serious criminal acts was not available ahead of the search and seizure.

“This latest incident further demonstrates that press freedom in Europe is on a worrying decline. We are extremely concerned by developments across the continent that increasingly undermine the ability of the independent press to fulfil its watchdog role over our democratic institutions,” said WAN-IFRA CEO Vincent Peyrègne. “Public authorities in Europe have shown an all too easy willingness to interfere in the freedom of the press, which is a dangerous precedent suggesting they wish to circumvent public accountability and are seeking to control open debate.”