The media were kept away from a closed-doors court hearing last week into alleged corruption activities involving a businessman in the eastern Estonian town of Kohtla-Järve due to a Prosecutor's Office ruling that pre-trial investigation evidence from the case would not be made public, the court says.
Liina Naaber-Kivisoo, chair of the first-tier Viru County Court, said that according to current law, the publication of data and evidence in pre-trial proceedings can be given only with the permission of the Prosecutor's Office.
Naaber-Kivisoo said: "The law states that the publication of data and evidence in pre-trial proceedings is possible only with the permission of the prosecutor's office."
"This means the court must also take into account whether the Prosecutor's Office is willing to disclose the investigation data and the content of the collected evidence at this stage of the procedure or not," she went on.
"During the preparations for the hearing, the court did not have any information on whether journalists had discussed the issue of participation in the hearing with the prosecutor's office."
"The information that the Prosecutor's Office is not willing to disclose the evidence and objects in the presence of journalists in the court-room during the discussion of the application reached the court just before the hearing was due to start," Naaber-Kivisoo added.
"Since the Prosecutor's Office was not willing to disclose the data of the investigation, in order to ensure this and comply with the law, the court did not allow journalists into the hearing. To have done otherwise would have been counter to the law and could harm the interests of the criminal proceedings, which the court could not allow," said.
As reported by ERR News, Viru County Court banned journalists from the corruption trial of businessman Nikolai Ossipenko this week, doing a u-turn on permission originally given to the media to attend hearings.
Ossipenko, 64, is under suspicion of acting as kingpin in a complex set of relationships inter-twining politicians and businesspeople in the town of around 33,000 people, as well in other towns near Kohtla-Järve, such as Jõhvi.
Several senior members of the Kohtla-Järve city government and the council chamber are also suspects or persons of interest in the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) investigation.
Journalists from news portal Delfi and from public broadcaster ERR were arriving at the Viru County Court building in Jõvi with the intention of covering the case. The press pack had even set up their equipment when a court official announced that their presence at the hearing had been revoked.
Media coverage of trials has long been an issue in Estonia, more specifically the rate at which significant trials are set to closed-door hearings.
Editor: Andrew Whyte