Seizure of muckraking journo’s notes overruled

A court in the canton of Neuchâtel has ordered the return of documents and computers seized from a Le Matin newspaper reporter who wrote articles accusing a university professor of plagiarism.

Seizure of muckraking journo's notes overruled
Reporter Rocchi being interviewed on Swiss TV. Photo: RTS

The cantonal court ruled on Wednesday that the seizure by police of reporter Ludovic Rocchi’s belongings last month was illegal and unjustified, the ATS news agency reported.

Rocchi was the author of a series of articles that alleged that Sam Blili, a Canadian economics professor at the University of Neuchâtel, wrote a book with a colleague that lifts entire passages from other sources without attribution.

The book is required reading for students of Blili, who has been the subject of a university investigation.

The professor filed a complaint for defamation, calumny and breach of official secrecy.

This led the Neuchâtel prosecutor’s office to authorize the police seizure on August 13th of documents and computers from Rocchi while he was staying in a hotel in Locarno, in the canton of Ticino, where he was covering the annual film festival.

The seizure was subsequently appealed by Le Matin.

The court ruled that seizing the materials was “at the minimum hasty and premature”, ATS reported.

It added that “the act of a police search of premises can in itself constitute a way of
pressuring journalists, who in a state of law must obviously be protected against such acts”.

The ruling highlighted the weakness of the prosecutor’s case in justifying the seizure.

“This is a significant victory for freedom of the press in Switzerland,” Sandra Jean, Le Matin’s editor-in-chief said in a statement following the court’s decision.

The ruling was also welcomed by the Swiss journalists’ association, Impressum, which said that further clarifications are needed into whether there was an “abuse of authority” in the case.

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