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UK court upholds Snowden journalist detention

A UK court on Wednesday rejected a challenge lodged by Brazilian journalist David Miranda, who was detained and questioned by UK authorities in an airport for possessing classified documents leaked by former US National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] contractor Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive]. Miranda, a partner of The Guardian [media website] journalist Glenn Greenwald, reportedly alleged that UK authorities violated international law [AP report] protecting free expression when they invoked UK terrorism legislation to detain him and seize classified documents from his person in August. Miranda argued the detention effectively branded journalists as terrorists. The court reportedly reasoned that, because Miranda possessed highly classified UK documents at the time of his detention, UK authorities responded appropriately and in proportion to the risk presented.

Protection of free expression remains a key concern for international human rights advocates. In September two independent UN human rights experts stressed [JURIST report] the UK's obligation to ensure that investigative journalists are allowed protection from intimidation and punishment. Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, put the concerns of press freedom before those of national security secrets, stating that "[t]he press plays a central role in the clarification of human rights abuses." Therefore, says La Rue, "The protection of national security secrets must never be used as an excuse to intimidate the press into silence and backing off from its crucial work in the clarification of human rights violations." The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson, then urged that a debate take place to officially determine what official access of data should be available to the public.

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