Journalists concerned by rush to change security laws

Amendments to Latvia's security laws currently being rushed through parliament came under fire from the country's main journalist body Wednesday. 

According to the Latvian Journalists Association (LŽA) one amendment in particular, numbered 95.1, would see journalists and whistleblowers facing the possibility of jail time for exposing classified information even if in the public interest. 

In addition, journalists were not asked to give their input during the drafting of the laws by the Justice Ministry nor were they invited to participate in parliamentary hearings where the amendements were discussed, LŽA complains.

"LŽA is seriously concerned regarding amendments to the Criminal Code Article 95.1... which provides for criminal liability for the illegal acquisition of state secrets, and their impact on the media's freedom to fulfill their duties," says a communique to the Saeima.

"LŽA believes that the current version threatens the media's freedom to report on matters of public interest; conflicts with the responsibilities of journalists to protect their sources of information; and does not protect whistleblowers," the statement says.

Consequently Article 95.1, which introduces criminal liability for the acquisition of state secrets should be dropped until it has been drafted in a more acceptable form with consultation from journalists, LŽA suggests.

Though the amendments in general are being touted as necessary to counter espionage, Article 95.1 specifically criminalizes gaining access to secret information even if not for purposes of espionage, saying:

"The illegal acquisition of state secrets, if this offense is not for espionage... shall be punished by imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or short-term imprisonment or community service, or a fine."

In addition, the proposed amendment would appear to preempt and complicate the introduction of a whistleblower protection law, discussion of which is ongoing.

The amendments which are proposed by Unity member Solvita Aboltina, have been placed on a "fast track" through parliament,meaning they receive two readings rather than the usual three, with the decisive second reading due to take place April 21.

However after a sometimes stormy meeting of a parliamentary committee on Wednesday, deputies heeded the journalists' concerns and agreed to a further two weeks of discussions on the matter. 

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