22 Sep 2018 Lvl. 2
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Alert created on: 28 Nov 2016 Belgium

Belgium: Journalist Interrogated and Home Raided by Police

Source of threatState
CategoryHarassment and intimidation of journalists
Partner Index AEJ EFJ/IFJ RSF
No state reply yet
Partner Index AEJ EFJ/IFJ RSF
On 21 November 2016, the Belgian federal police raided the home of journalist Bart Aerts who works for the programme "Terzake" on Canvas TV channel and took him in for questioning. According to Flandre Info, Aerts' phone was seized by the police, his computer was searched and he was taken in for questioning in Bruges. During the Terzake episode of 17 November 2016, Aerts examined recordings that had been extracted through wiretapping carried out by the police, which had been used in a murder investigation. These recordings revealed that the family of the victim Stijn Saelens had tried to contact the Public Prosecutor's department and judges in Bruges. In a letter to the Bruges magistrate, the public media group VRT, of which Canvas TV is a part, denounced the methods of the police and justice system. They demanded that the police return the phone to the journalist. Pol Deltour, national secretary of the Flemish journalists' association was quoted by Flandre Info saying the house raid "was a clear violation of the 2015 law on journalistic sources protection."
27 Jun 2019
On 26 June 2019, the Bruges Council Chamber referred Bart Aerts and the victim's brother-in-law, Peter Gyselbrecht, to the Crime Court for abuse of the right of access to the investigation record as wiretaps had been leaked to VRT journalists and broadcast in the "Terzake" show. The Council Chamber did not respond to the request to relocate the proceedings outside the Bruges jurisdiction. The defendants face up to one year in prison.
22 Sep 2017
On 21 September 2017, the Indictment Chamber at the Ghent Court of Appeal rejected Bart Aerts' request for access to the criminal file and confirmed the search of his home, the interrogation and the temporary confiscation of his mobile phone on the grounds that it constitutes an object with which a crime could have been committed; that its confiscation therefore falls under the current investigation; that there is no indication that the purpose of the search or confiscation was to reveal the journalist's sources.
Relevant CoE instruments Disclaimer
29 Nov 2016
Factsheet on other acts having chilling effects on the media freedom of journalists
29 Nov 2016
Ernst and others v. Belgium, no. 33400/96, Judgment 15.7.2003 : Massive searches of journalists’ places of work, homes and, in some instances, cars in order to identify magistrates having leaked information about pending criminal cases
29 Nov 2016
Nagla v. Latvia - 73469/10 : ECHR Judgment 16.7.2013 : Urgent search at journalist’s home involving the seizure of data storage devices containing her sources of information
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