In a ruling that is likely to have far-reaching consequences in the global campaign for press-freedom, three UK high court judges have upheld the detention and questioning in Heathrow airport of David Miranda, partner of former Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald.
The judges – Lord Justice Laws, Mr. Justice Ouseley and Mr. Justice Openshaw – said that Mr. Miranda’s detention by counter-terrorism officials under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act was lawful, proportionate and did not breach European laws on human rights and freedom of expression.
Mr. Miranda was interrogated last November in Heathrow while in transit between Berlin and Rio de Janeiro where he lives. He had gone to Berlin to meet filmmaker Laura Poitras, who with Mr. Greenwald was responsible for disclosures based on documents leaked by the former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden.
The encrypted files in Mr. Miranda’s possession contained classified UK intelligence material that was seized by his interrogators. According to Mr. Miranda's lawyers, he was relieved of nine items, including his laptop, mobile phone, memory cards and DVDs.
After his release and return to Rio, Mr. Miranda filed a legal petition against the British government seeking the return of materials seized from him by British authorities and a judicial review of the legality of his detention.
Although the judges accepted that Mr. Miranda’s detention was “an indirect interference with press freedom,” they held that the overriding interests of national security justified it.
Writing in The Intercept after the ruling was made, Mr. Greenwald said: “The UK Government expressly argued that the release of the Snowden documents (which the free world calls “award winning journalism” is actually tantamount to “terrorism”, the same theory now being used by the Egyptian military regime to prosecute Al Jazeera journalists as terrorists.) Congratulations to the UK government on the illustrious company it is once again keeping. British officials have also repeatedly threatened criminal prosecution of everyone involved in this reporting, including Guardian journalists and editors.”
"Equating journalism to terrorism, makes the conduct of journalism an arbitrary and fallacious threat to national security by those in authority and sends a most chilling message of suppressing and censoring any information deemed off limits to the public," Thomas Drake, a former senior NSA official-turned whistleblower told The Hindu.
On Monday, the same authorities subjected Jesselyn Radack, a legal adviser to Edward Snowden and a former US Department of Justice ethics advisor, to what she has called “intimidating and unnerving” questioning. The interrogation -- which Ms. Radeck alluded to at a talk she gave at a whistleblowers support meeting in London on Tuesday, and which she described in detail to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! – included questions on whether she had visited Russia, whether she represents Edward Snowden, and even questions like “Who is Edward Snowden?” and “Who is Bradley Manning?”
"It's extremely dangerous to equate journalism with terrorism. The former seeks to expose the truth and the latter to snuff it out. The UK has effectively criminalised journalism," Ms. Radeck told The Hindu.
The judges dismissed arguments from the groups Liberty, National Union of Journalists, English PEN and others that challenged Schedule 7 as being arbitrary and lacking safeguards.
The Guardian, in which many of Mr. Greenwald’s disclosures were published, and which paid for Mr. Miranda’s trip to Berlin, said it was “disappointed” at the judgment. In a statement it said that the Act, “designed to defeat terrorism can now be used to catch those who are working on fundamentally important issues. The judgment takes a narrow view of what 'journalism' is in the 21st century and a very wide view of the definition of 'terrorism'. We find that disturbing.”
Mr. Miranda, interviewed in The Intercept said he would appeal the judgment. “I will appeal this ruling, and keep appealing until the end, not because I care about what the British government calls me, but because the values of press freedom that are at stake are too important to do anything but fight until the end,” he said.
The case was heard in what is called The High court. However, in the British legal system, there are two judicial tiers above it. Being part of the European Union, a petitioner can also take the case to the European Court of Human Rights as the last resort for justice.
A Home Office spokesperson told the BBC: "We are pleased the court has agreed that the police can examine the material as part of their criminal investigation insofar as it falls within the purposes of the original Schedule 7 examination and in order to protect national security.”