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Romania: Journalist wins court backing in military intelligence human rights row

Judges ruled today that Romania’s decision to arrest and fine a journalist who shared classified military information without publishing breached human rights law.

In its Chamber judgment in the case of Gîrleanu v. Romania (application no. 50376/09) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case concerned the arrest and conviction of a journalist for possessing and trying to verify classified information on national security, namely documents belonging to a Romanian military unit based in Afghanistan.

As Just satisfaction (Article 41), the court held that Romania was to pay the applicant Marian Gîrleanu 4,500 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 3,695 directly to his lawyer in respect of costs and expenses.

The court found in particular that Gîrleanu had been arrested, a criminal investigation brought against him and a fine imposed on him, without him ever actually having published the secret information.

It was not convinced that Gîrleanu, in trying to verify the information he had been given on a CD and then sharing it with other people, had risked causing considerable damage to national security.

The documents in question had been de-classified just before the investigation against him had come to an end and, as observed by the prosecuting authorities in their decision not to indict Gîrleanu but fine him, the information was in any case outdated and not likely to endanger national security.

The court found that the domestic courts should have weighed those elements along with the fact that Gîrleanu had not obtained the information unlawfully and had been carrying out a journalistic investigation in the public interest.

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