U.K. Criminalizing Journalism Under Anti-Terror Laws

David Miranda’s case against U.K. authorities who detained him for nine hours at London’s Heathrow airport this summer is just got underway last week.

Meanwhile, in court documents the U.K. government submitted last week, authorities accused Miranda, who is the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, of terrorism and espionage for transporting documents between Greenwald and journalist Laura Poitras.

Though authorities admit that Miranda was not engaged in anything violent, they assert that disclosing documents or even suggesting such disclosure, when “designed to influence a government and … for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause … falls within the definition of terrorism.”

While no formal charges have been filed against Miranda, these accusations are a chilling signal of just how far the U.K. government is willing to go in prosecuting journalists and those who help them. All of this comes just days after Prime Minister David Cameron indicated he was exploring formal legal actionagainst the Guardian for publishing details of U.S. and U.K. spying programs.

The U.S. State Department has long condemned nations that abuse terror laws to silence journalists. At the Freedom of the Press Foundation (of which I am a board member), Trevor Timm has detailed a number of cases in which the U.S. has spoken out against the same kinds of practices the U.K. is currently employing.

Indeed, the State Department has criticized regimes in nations including Burundi, Ethiopia, Morocco and Turkey — but has kept silent about the U.K.’s actions. Timm calls on the State Department to be consistent with past policy and condemn the U.K., arguing that “warping ‘terrorism’ laws to suppress journalism is the hallmark of authoritarian regimes and deserves to be condemned by all.”

After Timm published his post, a Guardian reporter asked a State Department spokesperson if the administration condoned the U.K. government’s actions. The spokesperson dodged the question and, in an odd twist, referred the reporter to U.K. officials, who he described as “my colleagues in London.”

Threats to press freedom are popping up globally. We need to respond — and to ensure that we protect journalists’ fundamental rights whenever and wherever they are threatened.

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