The International Federation of Journalists today called for the immediate release of a reporter who was jailed yesterday in Brussels for being found in possession of a confidential file concerning paedophilia.
The arrest and imprisonment of José Masschelin, a reporter for Het Laatste Nieuws, sparked an angry strike by members of the Belgian journalists' union, the Association Générale de la Presse Belgique/AVBB on Friday. The IFJ accused the Belgian authorities of "flagrant disregard for journalists' rights" over the arrest of Masschelin.
"This action is a violation of a journalists' right to protect sources of information," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, "The anger of colleagues is well justified because the authorities are in breach of the legal protection for journalists given by the European Court of Human Rights."
Journalists organised a mass protest today outside the Court buildings in Ghent where the reporter was being held and called for a stoppage of work throughout the country's media.
The issue of paedophilia has been a major issue of public concern in Belgium in recent years following the exposure of a paedophile ring in August 1996 and a high profile case of murder and kidnapping in which four teenagers died. A mass protest at the time almost brought the government down amidst allegations of police incompetence and the involvement of high-level figures.
"It appears that a journalist is being victimised and his professional rights threatened because he has got his hands on a story that is just too embarrassing for the authorities," said Aidan White. "It is a scandal that he has been detained and an issue that affects every journalist who works in Belgium."
The IFJ is backing a campaign by Belgian journalists to get the journalists released and further demands that Belgium respects the declarations of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights in defence of the right of journalists to protect their sources.