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UK: “National security concerns must never justify intimidating journalists into silence,” warn UN experts

Intimidating journalists into silence

04 September 2013

GENEVA (4 September 2013) – Two United Nations independent experts on freedom of expression and human rights and counter-terrorism announced today they had requested further information from the United Kingdom on the recent detention of David Miranda, partner of the Guardian journalist, Glenn Greenwald, at Heathrow Airport, London, and the reported destruction of computer hard drives by British officials at the Guardian newspaper.

“The protection of national security secrets must never be used as an excuse to intimidate the press into silence and backing off from its crucial work in the clarification of human rights violations,” the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, stressed. “The press plays a central role in the clarification of human rights abuses.”

“It is clear that the revelations on the extensive mass surveillance initiatives implemented by some Governments needs to be widely debated,” Mr. La Rue said. “The intimidation of journalists and newspapers questioning alleged abuses by intelligence bodies is certainly not a contribution to the open debate that needs to take place.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson, added that current assessments of the threat posed by terrorism in the UK have changed significantly in profile over the past three years. “There should now be a debate on the extent to which the public is prepared to tolerate official access to meta data,” he stressed.

“The powers used in this case are currently under challenge in the European Court of Human Rights,” Mr. Emmerson said. “I urge the British authorities to review their operations to ensure that they comply fully with the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the right to liberty and security, and the right to respect for private and family life.”

The UN expert on freedom of expression also underscored the importance of ensuring full protection to journalists while performing their investigative work. “Under no circumstances, journalists, members of the media, or civil society organizations who have access to classified information on an alleged violation of human rights should be subjected to intimidation and subsequent punishment,” he said.

In his latest report* to the Human Rights Council, Mr. La Rue expressed his grave concerns regarding the widespread use of mass surveillance in all regions of the world and its impact on human rights defenders and journalists’ activities.

“National laws regulating communications surveillance are often inadequate or simply do not exist today,” noted La Rue. “Privacy and freedom of expression are interdependent rights - without adequate protection to privacy, security and anonymity of communications, no one can be sure that his or her private communications are not under States’ scrutiny.”

(*) Check Mr. La Rue's full report (June 2013): or

Frank La Rue (Guatemala) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any Government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more:

Ben Emmerson (United Kingdom) took up his functions as the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism in August 2011. As Special Rapporteur he is independent from any Government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Log on to:

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Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

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