Three Danish journalists who published classified intelligence reports on Iraq’s former weapons program were acquitted Monday of charges of endangering national security.
The Copenhagen City Court ruled that Niels Lunde, chief editor of the Berlingske Tidende newspaper, and reporters Michael Bjerre and Jesper Larsen, acted in the public interest when they published a series of articles in 2004 citing leaked Danish intelligence reports.
The articles said there was no evidence Iraq had weapons of mass destruction at the time of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, one of the key reasons cited by the U.S. and Britain for going to war.
A former intelligence officer has previously been sentenced to prison for leaking the documents in the case, which was viewed in Denmark as a landmark test of media freedom.
Lunde called the verdict “a great victory for the open society.” Prosecutor Michael Joergensen said he had not yet decided whether to appeal.
During the trial, which began Nov. 13, the prosecutor claimed that the newspaper, one of Denmark’s largest, violated a law that prohibits media from publishing classified information that could harm national security.
Joergensen had recommended that each of the defendants be given a four-month prison term — the same sentence that former intelligence officer Frank Grevil received after he was convicted last year of leaking the documents to the reporters.
In Monday’s ruling, Judge Peter Lind Larsen said the “considerable public interest” in the information outweighed the government’s concerns that its intelligence-gathering operations were jeopardized.
Press freedom advocates welcomed the decision, which was met with applause in the packed court room.
“In Denmark, we have today thoroughly underlined that journalists, media have an extensive freedom of expression,” said Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard, head of the Danish Union of Journalists.