Supreme Court: wiretapping of journalist investigating military tender 'illegal'
The Supreme Court has ruled that a regional court acted illegally six years ago in authorising the wiretapping of investigative journalist Janek Kroupa, who was digging into alleged corruption in a multi-billion crown military tender. In an interview with Radio Prague on Tuesday, he said the ruling sets important precedents in requiring authorities to explicitly justify any police surveillance of journalists.
The Supreme Court ruling related to a corruption case from nearly a decade ago. In March 2009, a revised contract was signed with the U.S.-owned Austrian arms maker Steyr to deliver 107 armoured personnel carriers at a cost of 14.4 billion crowns. Two years later, after police began investigating corruption surrounding the tender, a Steyr manager testified that a lobbyist close to the Czech prime minister had sought a bribe of nearly half a billion crowns to allow the deal to go through.
It later was revealed the police had for several months in 2011 and 2012 tapped the phones of Janek Kroupa, then an investigative journalist at the daily Mladá Fronta Dnes, now a reporter at Czech Radio, who had dug up much of the dirt over the Steyr tender.
The Supreme Court ruling found that in granting corruption police permission to monitor the journalist’s conversations, the Ostrava district court had acted illegally. Furthermore, after the investigation had concluded, the police failed to inform Mr Kroupa his phone had been tapped in connection with the case, though required to do so under Czech law.
Mr Kroupa’s lawyer, Petr Toman, told Czech Radio that the ruling sets an important precedent in terms of protecting the rights of journalists and their sources.
Mr Kroupa’s reporting is widely credited with leading to the conviction last July of the powerful lobbyist Marek Dalík, a long-time unofficial adviser and fixer to former prime minister Mirek Topolánek (ODS), for attempted bribery. He told Radio Prague that in the past, judges had treated journalists just like anybody else and did not recognize any right of protection.
“ And until now, the police generally implied that this right is applied only to situations when you are being interrogated. And you do not have to tell who the source is, but there was no protection whatsoever.”
So it’s a precedent. It’s ground-breaking.
“Definitely it is a precedent for us.”
Supreme Court judge Jiří Pácal said in the written ruling that the Ostrava district court had failed to respect the journalist’s right to protect his sources; furthermore, judges must always consider “whether the public benefit in disclosing sources outweighs the Constitutional right to freedom of expression”.