By Michael Washburn
Freedom for journalist Ed Moloney is an international issue. Or it should be, according to speakers at a rally held on Saturday outside the British Consulate at 845 Third Avenue in Manhattan. Attended by several dozen protesters as well as noted writer Pete Hamill and City Controller Alan Hevesi, the rally delivered a sharp rebuke to the British authorities for their handling of Moloney’s case.
Moloney, the Northern Ireland editor of the Dublin-based Sunday Tribune newspaper, refused to obey an order from a British court that gave him seven days to hand over notebooks disclosing his sources for stories about possible collusion between British agents and the murderers of Belfast human rights lawyer Pat Finucane. Now facing jail for this refusal, Moloney stands firm in the belief that it would be unethical for him to betray his sources.
Rally organizer Patrick Farrelly, who is associated with the Committee for Press Freedom in Northern Ireland, said he felt the case drew new urgency from the impending high court decision on whether to overturn the lower court’s order requiring Moloney to surrender the notebooks.
Other factors gave leverage to the protest. Farrelly mentioned the possibility that Moloney was about to be named Irish journalist of the year, an honor that would put even more pressure on the British authorities to rule in his favor. Amnesty International is also on record saying that it will declare Moloney a prisoner of conscience if he loses his case and goes to jail.
The protesters were determined not to see that happen. Carrying signs with messages like "Jail Pat Finucane’s Killers/Not Ed Moloney" and "Stop the Persecution of Journalists in Northern Ireland," the 50 or so men and women marched tirelessly around the perimeter of the protest zone, stopping only to listen to the distinguished speakers.
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During their turns at the microphone, both Hamill and Hevesi stressed that the issue was not just an Irish one, but was an issue of basic justice and free speech. Hamill was eloquent in speaking about friends of his who had died in Vietnam and Lebanon and who had been injured in Ireland, and he made the crowd feel a profound appreciation for Moloney, a journalist who has also put himself and his livelihood at risk in order to advance the truth. Hevesi said that although he is of Hungarian, not Irish, descent, he was glad to be taking part in what he saw as a struggle for basic human rights.
Also speaking at the rally was attorney Mary Pike, who represented Joe Doherty before the Supreme Court. She spoke eloquently about the growing concern among human rights organizations over Moloney’s case.
Although the Moloney case has gotten attention from writers and officials, it is far from just a fashionable cause for celebrities. Also present at the rally was the endangered journalist’s aunt, Helen Moloney. When she is not crusading on behalf of her nephew, she is a nursing administrator at Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens. She is understandably passionate about the case. Asked about the British court’s demand, she said that "ethically, it’s totally unacceptable" for Ed Moloney to hand over information about his sources. To do so would tarnish his integrity as a journalist, of which she is justly proud.
Other protesters were first- and second-generation New Yorkers proud of their Irish history and heritage. Among them was Mary Murray, a Manhattan resident whose father came here from County Derry and whose mother came from County Tyrone. She said that she has been active of Moloney’s behalf and that "if my parents were alive, they’d be here" as well.