State’s Attorney Sigrid Nurm has filed a petition with the Supreme Court to overturn a June 14 Tallinn Magistrate’s Court ruling and restore a Harju County Magistrate’s Court ruling from two months earlier, which had fined two journalists and the publication they work for the investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress, €1,000 each.
State Prosecutor Nurm believes that the Tallinn Circuit Court, in interpreting Article 214 of the Penal Code (which deals with extortion – ed.), had made non-statutory requirements a precondition for the imposition of a fine. Because of this, reversing the Harju County Court’s decision was illegal, she said.
The case follows a March report which revealed details of preliminary proceedings in a money laundering case linked to former Swedbank executives.
The prosecutor’s office believes that journalists working for a publication owned by a large media group should not be treated the same as those working for smaller companies.
“In this case, there would be an unequal treatment for freelance journalists who publish their stories on any blog they manage, since we could not speak of a fine from the site and therefore they would only be liable as natural persons.” Nurm continued.
The circuit court had ruled that the county court and the prosecutor’s office had failed to indicate how releasing specific information would endanger or harm Swedbank’s ongoing criminal proceedings, a decision with which the prosecutor’s office prosecutor disagrees.
Prohibiting the disclosure of information gathered in the course of criminal proceedings would be linked to the risk of prejudice to the proceedings, whereas this risk does not need to be certain and proven, but only a risk which does not cannot be disclosed in great detail. In the present case, such a risk exists, notes the prosecution.
“The views expressed in the prosecutor’s memorandum to reporters on how the disclosure of truthful information can make it impossible to prove the facts in court, and thus render litigation and the administration of justice unviable. It is a very real risk, but it is virtually impossible to predict.”
“Submitting an article to the public on the Internet is considered a violation of §214 (3) of the Penal Code if the journalists do not have the authorization of the prosecutor’s office with regard to the information concerning the pre-trial.”
The prosecutor noted that for a story to appear online, a reporter must submit a preview of the article, which would then likely be reviewed by its editor and others.
“The court also gives an example of conversation between journalists during meetings and at the editorial office,” continued the public prosecutor.
At the same time, the arguments presented by the court of first instance are contradictory and incomprehensible, according to the prosecution, since it was a question of making the data of a criminal case available to a non-procedural third party, which which means that disclosure via an online platform cannot exclude the liability of journalists within the meaning of Article 214 (3) of the Penal Code.
This article of the code provides for fines for persons outside the procedure, a category of persons which must be interpreted within the meaning of the commission.
Conversely, the circuit court took the opposite view, Nurm said, that in the view of the prosecutor’s office, the public was told the facts of the preliminary criminal case too soon, by publishing the procedural data without permission, and as it took place via an online platform, the circuit court ruled that only the media publication was guilty, not the journalists.
The prosecutor’s office disagrees with the circuit court’s arguments regarding the group of people who can be fined for disclosing information.
The prosecutor’s office also disagrees with the circuit court’s decision that the prosecutor’s office failed to indicate how the information published by the journalists endangered the criminal proceedings and the identification of the threat to criminal proceedings as a precondition for the imposition of a fine. .
The fact that the journalists in question and the media to which they report were twice directed by the prosecution for violations regarding the disclosure of unauthorized pre-trial information, but nevertheless continued similar activities, is not insignificant. , added the prosecution. .
The prerequisite for the application can therefore in no way oblige the public prosecutor to disclose in detail the danger for criminal prosecution that the disclosure of information entails, since the fine is notified to persons violating article 214 of the code penal system and its working methods, which would make further prosecution virtually impossible and cause even greater damage than the publication of data already published, the office continues.
The public prosecutor thus asks the Supreme Court to annul the decision of the circuit court of June 14 and to execute the decision of the county court of April 14 which imposed a fine of €1,000 on Sulev Vedler, a fine of €1,000 to Tarmo Vahter and a fine of €1,000 to AS Ekspress Meedia
News of the fines appeared in the media just a day after Estonia regained fourth place in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) media freedom ranking about a decade after it ranked so high for the first time, and led to a pushback on the perceived restriction. the same media freedoms.
While the circuit court ruling overturned the fines, it established the principle that journalists must obtain permission from the prosecutor’s office to release pre-trial information.
Chief Justice Villu Kõve said on Tuesday the matter should be reconsidered.