Threats to the Protection of Journalists Sources

Update: 08 Jul 2016 Resolved
Year 24 Jun 2016 Country Belgium Category Other acts having chilling effects on media freedom Source of threat State Partner EFJ/IFJ Alert level Level 2
24 Jun 2016 Belgium Other acts having chilling effects on media freedom State EFJ/IFJ Level 2

The Minister of Justice of Belgium, Koen Geens, announced his intention to increase sentences for violation of professional secrecy, which would permit wiretapping or computer tracing of journalists' sources. The Minister also has plans to allow intelligence services to "withdraw the protection linked to the status of professional journalist" if these services consider that the beneficiary of that legal status in Belgium is not really a journalist. Professional organisations of journalists have denounced these projects, arguing that they undermine the protection of journalists' sources and the legal status of journalists. The General Association of Professional Journalists of Belgium (AGJPB) recalls that the status of professional journalist, in Belgium, is granted (supervised and withdrawn) by an independent commission of approval organised by law, and that it is therefore not the remit of intelligence services to interfere in an independent procedure.

Resolved On 8 July 2016, the partners of the Platform declared this case to be "resolved”, concluding that it was no longer an active threat to media freedom.

Updates

08 Jul 2016 : In July 2016 the Belgian Council of State rejected the draft project, describing it as too vague and arguing that the “restriction of the guarantees provided for at present” which the project implies “must be duly justified, which is not the case at the present stage”.

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20 March 2018

On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its Grand chamber judgment on Mehmet Altan’s case. The Court found there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention for Human Rights. With regards to article 5 §1, according to the Court findings, “Mr Altan’s continued pre-trial detention, after the Constitutional Court’s clear and unambiguous judgment of 11 January 2018 (…), could not be regarded as ‘lawful’ ”. The Court held that “for another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications ran counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty, which (…) were the cornerstones of the guarantees against arbitrariness”. Under Article 10, the Court held in particular that “there was no reason to reach a different conclusion from that of the Constitutional Court, which had found that Mr Altan’s initial and continued pre-trial detention, following his expression of his opinions, constituted a severe measure that could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society”. The Court pointed out in particular that “criticism of governments and publication of information regarded by a country’s leaders as endangering national interests should not attract criminal charges for particularly serious offences such as belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation, attempting to overthrow the government or the constitutional order or disseminating terrorist propaganda”.

20 March 2018

On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its Grand chamber judgment on Şahin Alpay’s case. The Court found there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention for Human Rights. With regards to article 5 §1, according to the Court findings, “Mr Alpay’s continued pre-trial detention, after the Constitutional Court’s clear and unambiguous judgment of 11 January 2018 (…), could not be regarded as ‘lawful’ ”. The Court held that “for another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications ran counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty, which (…) were the cornerstones of the guarantees against arbitrariness”. Under Article 46 (binding force and execution of judgments) of the Convention, the Court held that it was incumbent on the respondent State to ensure the termination of Mr Alpay’s pre-tria detention at the earliest possible date. Under Article 10, the Court held in particular that “there was no reason to reach a different conclusion from that of the Constitutional Court, which had found that Mr Alpay’s initial and continued pre-trial detention, following his expression of his opinions, constituted a severe measure that could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society”. The Court pointed out in particular that “criticism of governments and publication of information regarded by a country’s leaders as endangering national interests should not attract criminal charges for particularly serious offences such as belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation, attempting to overthrow the government or the constitutional order or disseminating terrorist propaganda”.
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