The records obtained by the department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to the attorneys for the AP.
The Foreign Ministry's Special Representative for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law Konstantin Dolgov is joining us now live on the phone.
Mr. Dolgov, first of all, thank you very much for joining us! What is Russia’s official reaction to this incident? How would you describe such cases when America is usually perceived as a sort of citadel of democracy?
Well, indeed we are quite disturbed by this information coming from the United States. First of all, it is a well-established and respectable news agency which has claimed officially that its journalists have been wiretapped for quite some time. It is not by the way the first time that we are receiving this piece of information from the United States.
I would just like to remind that the US NGOs who are, let’s say, defending human rights, they have complained for a long time that journalists are being monitored, that their Internet communications, their phones are being wiretapped and monitored by the FBI.
So, we are not so much surprised. But this time the scale of the transgression is really amazing. So, obviously we expect that the Obama Administration is to listen very attentively to this voice of the human rights defenders and is to draw a certain conclusion, and must take care of the situation.
The Justice Department of the United States said that they couldn’t do otherwise because they are fighting extremism, they are fighting terrorism. Well, we know in Russia what it stands for to fighting terrorism, but it is the international norm that while fighting terrorism you have to take care of human rights.
There are serious issues in the field of human rights in the United States. It confirms our opinion that there are no countries which are immune completely to problems in the field of human rights.
A very respectable international NGO which unites journalists, they have degraded the United States in their hierarchy of countries in terms of freedom of media just because of these particular problems in the field of the freedom of media and freedom of speech.
As we know American politicians in State Department quite often sort of lecture Russia on the state of human rights in the country. Do you think it is possible that now Russian politicians, our Foreign Minister for instance, has a reason to talk about it with his American colleagues?
Well, first of all, nobody and nothing forbids anyone from discussing human rights situation in a different country. It is an international norm that such a discussion, even criticism, is not an interference in domestic affairs of a sovereign country. But it is very important to see how this criticism is formulated.
We do criticize the United States, we do criticize the European Union but we never interfere in their internal affairs. This is the red line for us. And, obviously, we don’t want to be lectured by anyone, be it the United States, be it the European Union members or anyone else.
There is a number of human rights issues which have an international dimension and the best way to tackle them is to enhance international dialogue, international cooperation in the field of human rights. So, we are not criticizing for the sake of criticism. Cooperation, not just finger-pointing, that’s what is very important to stress.
Can you recollect any similar situations in Europe or in Russia, or you consider this case with the Associated Press as an outstanding?
Well, I can mention just one situation, one very vivid example – it is Newsgate in Britain. And this scandal is still going on. It is a story which has been developing for the last couple of years. And it is a very shocking experience for the British society. So, once again, nobody is immune to human rights issues and that’s why nobody is to lecture anyone else.
U.S. Attorney General said he did not make the decision to seize telephone records of AP
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Tuesday he did not make the controversial decision to secretly seize telephone records of the Associated Press but defended his department's actions in the investigation of what he called a "very, very serious leak.
The decision to seek phone records of one of the world's largest news-gathering organizations was made by Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole, Holder said.
Holder, speaking at a press conference, said he recused himself from the matter to avoid a potential conflict of interest because he was interviewed by the FBI as part of the same leak investigation that targeted the AP records.
That seizure, denounced by critics as a gross intrusion into freedom of the press, has created an uproar in Washington and led to questions over how the Obama administration is balancing the need for national security with privacy rights.
Combined with a separate furor over the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative political groups for extra scrutiny, it also is stoking fears of excessive government intrusion under President Barack Obama.
The White House has said it had no advance knowledge of the IRS or Justice Department actions.
Lawmakers from both parties on Tuesday criticized the Justice Department's decision to obtain the AP records. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the action "inexcusable."
But in a letter to AP president Gary Pruitt, Cole on Tuesday defended the department's unusual action against a member of the media, saying it was a necessary step in the year-old criminal probe of leaks of classified information.
A law enforcement official said the probe is related to information in a May 7, 2012, AP story about an operation, conducted by the CIA and allied intelligence agencies, that stopped a Yemen-based al Qaeda plot to detonate a bomb on an airplane headed for the United States.
Cole declined Pruitt's request to return the records.
AP scandal highlights problems with freedom of speech in U.S. – Russia’s FM
The situation with The Associated Press – is a further example of the serious problems with freedom of speech in the United States, said Russian Foreign Ministry’s Special representative for Human Rights Konstantin Dolgov in an interview for the "Voice of Russia”.
"This only confirms that similar problems exist in all countries, and the U.S. is no exception".
"Russia does not believe that discussion of these problems is interference in internal affairs, the question is how to formulate one’s position".
"We should discuss each other problems, but not just for the sake of pointing at the other side and saying "Look how bad you are!”
America’s largest news agency AP on Monday voiced protest against the actions of the authorities. According to the agency, the government seized the records for more than 20 telephone lines assigned to the AP and its staff in April and May of 2012.
How many journalists used the phone lines during that period is unknown, but more than 100 people work in the offices where phone records were targeted, the AP said.
The White House has denied any involvement in the scandal.
Voice of Russia