British Press-Freedom Case Involves Anti-Terrorism Law
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
LONDON, May 20 -- A high-level British court will hear arguments this week in a press-freedom case in which police are attempting to use anti-terrorism laws to force a journalist to turn over notes and other source material.
Leading British journalists argue that the rare use of the laws in this way threatens the future of investigative journalism in Britain. Police maintain that they are simply following all leads as they investigate a man who has been involved in religious extremist activities.
The case centers around Hassan Butt, 28, a former high-profile Islamic extremist in Britain who has since publicly renounced violence and now says he works to de-radicalize British Muslim youth.
Although Butt's renunciations and his work with Muslim youth have won praise from top British officials, including an offer of funding from British anti-terrorism officials, Manchester police arrested Butt this month and are detaining him under the Terrorism Act.
As part of their investigation, police have demanded all notes, contact lists and other confidential source material from Shiv Malik, 27, a journalist who is helping Butt write his autobiography, "Leaving al-Qaeda: Inside the Mind of a British Jihadist."
Police have sought similar material from other news organizations that have interviewed Butt, including the BBC, the Sunday Times, Prospect magazine and CBS News, which aired a "60 Minutes" segment on Butt in March 2007. All are opposing the police in court.
"Unless there are compelling reasons, the press should not be forced to turn over working notes," Linda Mason, senior vice president of CBS News, said in a telephone interview. "There's nothing like that in this case. In fact, it feels like a fishing expedition."
When Malik refused to turn over his notes, police obtained a court order requiring him to comply. Malik has appealed that order to the High Court, which will hear the case beginning on Wednesday.
In an interview, Malik said the police order makes no sense because Butt has said he is willing to tell police all about his previous associations with religious extremists -- the same information he has provided to Malik.
Manchester police declined to comment on details of their detention of Butt.
For several years, Butt was one of Britain's most outspoken Islamic radicals and acknowledged recruiting young British Muslims to train in al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan.
But after the July 7, 2005, transit bombings in London, in which four suicide bombers killed 52 train and bus passengers, Butt publicly renounced violence and became a vocal opponent of using violence for political or religious purposes.