Israel's move Wednesday to indict an investigative journalist for possessing classified documents marks a "clear threat" to press freedom in the country, Reporters Without Borders said.
In the interests of democracy and government accountability, Israel's attorney general ought to drop plans to indict Uri Blau and Israeli journalists should rally to his defense, the group's Mideast director said.
Blau is accused of violating the terms of an agreement to return documents he obtained from Anat Kam, a former army clerk who was convicted in 2011 of illegally distributing classified files. Yahuda Weinstein, the attorney general, said Blau's alleged failure to abide by the deal's terms left the state no choice but to indict him.
Reporters Without Borders disagrees, according to Soazig Dollet, the Paris-based group's director for the Mideast and North Africa. She says Blau's cooperation, or lack thereof, is beside the point because obtaining classified information is "part of his job" as a journalist focusing on the security sector.
"We really believe investigative reporters should have such documents (in) their hands, to dig into cases involving their own state," Dollet explained. She said Blau's reporting was clearly in the public interest.
Dollet added that journalists occasionally seek classified material to expose wrongdoing, such as Blau's 2008 expose of the Israeli army's practice of "targeted killings" of Palestinians in the West Bank.
"It's really important for Israeli society to know the behavior of the Israeli army," Dollet said.
But the Israeli attorney general's plan to indict Blau marks a shift in another direction, and it highlights "a clear threat regarding press freedom in Israel and access to information," Dollet said.
She urged Israeli journalists to rally to Blau's defense.
The Vienna-based International Press Institute, meanwhile, reiterated its "firm support" for the journalist, and it urged Israeli authorities to drop all charges against him immediately.
"We are highly concerned about the ramifications of this decision on the right of the Israeli public to be informed about the actions of state institutions," said IPI acting deputy director Anthony Mills.
The planned indictment against Blau "would set a highly unfortunate precedent for press freedom and democracy" in Israel, Mills said in a statement. "Journalists should have the right to use leaked documents as sources for their stories when these stories serve the public interest".
Meanwhile, the Association of Israel Journalists warned that the decision, if carried out, "endangers freedom of the press, which is the soul of democracy," Blau's employer Haaretz reported.
The group said that "Every investigative journalist has in their possession files that were leaked from unofficial sources. We do not know another way to reveal instances of government corruption, injustices and offenses to the public, whose perpetrators would prefer to continue uninterrupted."
It also noted that Blau had faithfully submitted his stories to Israel's military censor.