The State Prosecutor's Office is due by Thursday to issue its decision on the subject of whether Haaretz reporter Uri Blau will face charges of "possession of secret information by an unauthorized individual (without intent to undermine state security )." Indicting Blau would be unwarranted. Trying a journalist for fulfilling his professional mission would constitute a stain on Israeli democracy and do critical harm to freedom of expression.
"Possession of secret information" is one of the fundamental aspects of the work of a journalist, and is a necessary part of the work of reporters covering matters of defense, diplomacy and intelligence, about which almost all of the information that is obtained is classified in some way. There is no other way to report on the defense establishment and scrutinize its acts and omissions. If the media were only allowed to gather "unclassified" information, its reporting would look like news releases from the Israel Defense Forces spokesman.
Blau acted according to the rules: He gathered information indicating failings in military operations and the alleged violation of High Court of Justice directives regarding assassination policy. Blau provided his reporting and the documents upon which it was based to the military censor's office, which approved publication. The documents in his possession were to be used in his work, and the authorities are not contending that he made any other use of them. The Shin Bet security service's contention that Blau had not abided by a prior agreement to return the documents is no reason to put him on trial.
No journalist has ever been tried in Israel for "possession of secret information," and a dangerous precedent, which would deter the media from fulfilling its essential role in a democracy by providing scrutiny of the IDF and other defense agencies, must not be set.
The defense establishment is not entitled to be exempt from outside examination of its acts; persecution of critical journalists is a hallmark of repressive regimes and must not occur in Israel.
Discrimination against the journalist is particularly blatant in light of the consistent failure of the defense establishment and the prosecution to take action against government ministers, army officers and senior officials who have concluded their terms in service and have retained possession of classified documents.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein needs to close the Blau case and refrain from drifting toward a dangerous precedent.
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