The PSNI has agreed to return a SIM card belonging to a Co. Londonderry journalist.
Friday, 20 August 2010
Freelance reporter Eamonn MacDermott said his livelihood and his life could be in danger after officers investigating dissident republican activity seized the card along with the mobile phone.
The National Union of Journalists said the police had informed Mr Mac Dermott on Friday that the card but not the phone would be returned within 48 hours.
In a statement Séamus Dooley of the NUJ said he welcomed the decision to return the SIM card but that it "raised fundamental questions about the initial seizure of the phone."
Earlier, freelance reporter Eamonn MacDermott, who has written about dissident activity in the past, said he was worried after the phone was taken by police on Thursday as "part of an investigation".
"It puts my life in danger," he told UTV. "In our job we do have to talk to people from dissident or criminal backgrounds.
"Will I be dragged into court expected to give evidence to back up something from the police, when then puts my whole life and family in danger? The ramifications from this whole thing are immense."
Mr MacDermott said police had called him to the station for further questioning over a statement he submitted in September last year.
"The police had been in contact with me about a claim I received last September and they'd asked me to make a statement about, which I did," he said.
"Then on Thursday afternoon they contacted me saying they had further questions. At the end of the interview they said they wanted me to give them my phone. We had a bit of a discussion as I said 'you're not taking my phone,' then I spoke to my solicitor."
After contending the issue with the police, Mr MacDermott was issued with a warrant dated for August 17.
"Once I read the warrant through to my solicitor I was told I had no choice but to hand over the phone," he continued.
"I don't understand what they're looking for on it. I asked them and they said it is part of an investigation.
"The worrying thing as a journalist is that they're trawling through my contacts."
The National Union of Journalists hit out against the PSNI for the action, saying it compromises the right to protect confidential sources.
"People tell journalists things in strict confidence on the understanding that the sources will not be revealed," said Irish Secretary of the union Séamus Dooley.
"The right to protect confidential sources of information has been upheld by the court, it is recognised in international law and the seizure of a mobile phone undermined that fundamental right."
However the PSNI has defended the move, saying in a statement: "The PSNI has a duty to investigate all crime in Northern Ireland and officers will use all legal methods at their disposal to carry out those investigations.
"Any member of the public who has a complaint to make about police actions can contact the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland."
Mr MacDermott continued: "We understand as journalists that there's a thin line you don't cross between reporting what the public have a right to know.
"What the police are saying is you will report what we decide you can report, which is a very worrying situation for any country to be in."
Journalists throughout Ireland and the UK have expressed their concern over the incident. In a statement the NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said:
"Eamonn MacDermott is an established freelance journalist working in Northern Ireland, covering sensitive stories and with a wide range of contacts.
"The seizure of his phone and the accessing of his phone records by the police is another attack on the right of journalist to operate in Northern Ireland.
"The right to protect confidential sources of information is compromised when police act in this way and we take this action very seriously."
The NUJ has said it will support Mr MacDermott over the incident.
Mr Dear has likened the case to that of Sunday Tribune editor Suzanne Breen, who fought a legal battle in 2009 after officers ordered her to hand over information as part of an investigation into suspected Real IRA killings.
"Just as we supported the right of Suzanne Breen to protect her sources we protect the right of Eamonn MacDermott," he said.
© UTV News