Belgian Raid on Reporter Sparks IFJ Alert Over Threat to Journalists’ Rights

The International Federation of Journalists today warned of an all-out attack on legitimate investigative reporting following the detention of a leading journalist in Brussels and the police raid on his office.

Earlier today, Hans-Martin Tillack, a correspondent of the German weekly Stern in Brussels was arrested by local police. Police searched his private house and subsequently raided the editorial offices of Stern. The searches were ordered by a Belgian judge on behalf of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), after an article about possible fraud within the European Parliament.

The home search took place just when the Belgian Chamber of Deputies is about to discuss a bill concerning the protection of sources of information for journalists and a draft law is to be voted on next week by the Justice Commission.

“This appears to be a fishing expedition by police and security forces to try to expose where the journalist got his information and who he has been speaking to,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “It is all the more suspicious because it comes at a time when Belgium is discussing long overdue rules on protection of journalists sources, said White.”

The IFJ recalls the landmark ‘Ernst and Others Versus Belgium’ case last year, where the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg voted unanimously to defend the principles of protection of sources. The Court ruled that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The IFJ is supporting its affiliates, the Belgian Association of Professionnal Journalists (AGJPB), the Deutscher Journalisten-Verband (DJV) and the Deutsche Journalistinnen- und Journalisten-Union (dju) in ver.di, in their call on the Belgian Parliament to vote through the law on protection of journalistic sources in order to ensure that such intimidations will be prohibited by Belgian law in accordance with EU regulations.

The IFJ says that journalists must be able to protect their sources of information without being subject to official harassment and intrusion and if there are problems with journalists work these can be dealt with without resorting to the courts and intervention by the police.

“This affair smacks of intimidation and overreaction and amounts to an appalling assault upon the fundamental rights of journalists," said White.

Last year, the IFJ, and its regional organisation the European Federation of Journalists, launched a global campaign to highlight the need to protect sources and have supported journalists who have refused to give evidence, even to international courts, if it might expose confidential sources.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries