Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland has asked UK Home Secretary Theresa May to explain the pressure that Downing Street had put on the Guardian newspaper over the Snowden case, warning of the potentially "chilling effect" on media freedom.
In the letter sent yesterday (21 August), Jagland, a Norwegian politician, laid out his concerns over two recent events in the United Kingdom – the detention by police at the Heathrow airport of David Miranda, the partner of the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, and the destruction of hard drives at the Guardian’s headquarters, which he said was “apparently under instructions of government officials”.
Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian newspaper which spearheaded revelations by US whistleblower Edward Snowden, recently revealed that the British authorities forced his newspaper to destroy material leaked by the former CIA employee, whose revelations uncovered a massive American eavesdropping programme that shocked the world and triggered a swathe of angry responses from Europe.
“These measures, if confirmed, may have a potentially chilling effect on journalists’ freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European convention of Human Rights”, Jagland wrote.
Article 10 of the convention lays out the right to freedom of expression but also refers to restrictions in the interest of national security and public safety and the prevention of disclosure of information received in confidence.
Jagland asked May to “provide information on these reports and comments on the compatibility of the measures taken with the UK’s obligations under the Convention”.
Viviane Reding, the European Commission vice president responsible for justice and fundamental rights, reacted on Tweeter to the Council of Europe's announcement, despite earlier statements by spokespeople from the EU executive saying Brussels could not comment on the application of national security legislation.
“I fully share Mr. Jagland’s concerns,” Reding wrote on Twitter.
But the Commission denied suggestions that Reding’s tweet could be interpreted as a request of information to the UK authorities. Asked by EURACTIV to comment, Commission spokesperson Olivier Bailly said fundamental human rights issues were a responsibility for the Council of Europe, not the European Commission.
“The tweet of Mrs Reding confirms that this is a legal responsibility of the Council of Europe,” Bailly said.