A federal judge has ruled that Amnesty International and other human rights groups can assert the same privileges that journalists use, allowing them to better protect anonymous sources.
The magistrate judge, Viktor Pohorelsky of Federal District Court in New York, said in an order issued Tuesday that the group did not have to disclose the names of lawyers quoted anonymously in a report about them being videotaped while talking to their clients in prison.
"Amnesty is part of the press in terms of gathering information and disseminating it; they serve that function," said Wallace Neel, a lawyer representing Amnesty International.
An official with Human Rights Watch said any ruling that increased protection for human rights organizations was positive.
"Our sources depend on confidentiality to come forward," said the official, David Fathi.
The issue came up in a 2004 lawsuit in which lawyers complained that employees at a federal jail in New York City had surreptitiously recorded their conversations with clients arrested after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Lawyers for Legal Aid, which provides legal services to the poor, brought the suit, claiming jail managers and administrators ordered or sanctioned the recordings. The overall case has yet to be heard. Amnesty International was drawn into the suit because a report it issued in March 2002 said some lawyers were concerned about being recorded.
Lawyers for jail officials wanted Amnesty International to disclose the names of lawyers quoted anonymously in the report but the group refused in all but the case of one lawyer, Bryan Lonegan, who waived his confidentiality.
The judge ordered that Amnesty did not have to disclose its sources' names, apart from the name of a lawyer that Mr. Lonegan had mentioned to Amnesty.
© 2007 Reuters