28 January 2005


Police question two journalists in latest attack on confidentiality of sources

Incident details

Anne De Graaf, Yves Desmet


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(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has condemned the 25 January 2005 police interrogation of reporter Anne De Graaf and editor-in-chief Yves Desmet, of the Flemish-language newspaper "De Morgen". The journalists were questioned about their sources for a May 2004 report on police fears of a terrorist attack in Antwerp.

De Graaf and Desmet were questioned at the paper's headquarters by members of a police supervisory committee, as witnesses in an investigation by Federal Prosecutors and Antwerp Judge Marc De Hous into unauthorised police leaks. They were asked in particular about calls made on De Graaf's phone between 23 March and 8 May.

"RSF firmly condemns this attack on the right to confidentiality of sources, which is an inviolable principle," the organisation said. "This violation is all the more shocking as it came just two days before a Senate vote on a bill giving more protection for the confidentiality of Belgian journalists' sources. We call on the judicial authorities to respect Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and not to turn journalists into police auxiliaries."

De Graaf's report said Antwerp police and the Federal Prosecutor's Office met secretly to discuss the threat of a terrorist attack. An Al-Qaeda member was suspected of wanting to blow up an Antwerp tunnel. Former Antwerp police superintendent Bart Debie, now a far right parliamentarian, was present at the meeting and is suspected of being the source of the leak.

On 18 January, a search of Debie's office was carried out. Police found that seven phone calls were made between him and De Graaf. De Graaf has never denied contacting Debie, but she said it was merely to "verify information."

De Graaf has accused the authorities of causing her professional and personal harm. "Since it was announced that the police screened my phone calls, I have been unable to work," she said. "The file of contacts that I have built over more than 15 years suddenly disintegrated yesterday. Everyone I call hangs up immediately because they think they are being taped. Furthermore, the police had access to sources who had nothing to do with the May 2004 article. I am thinking in particular of sources linked to the Dutrou trial, which I covered for the newspaper."

RSF said it was clear new legislation was needed in Belgium recognising the right of journalists to conceal their sources. On 27 January, the Senate was expected to vote in a plenary session on a bill protecting sources. Under this proposed law, journalists would no longer be prosecuted for protecting confidential information or for complicity in the violation of professional secrecy.

The bill proposes one exception, however: if the source of information is likely to prevent a crime that would pose a serious threat to a person's safety, the journalist must reveal the source when requested to do so by a judge.

If approved by the Senate, the bill will go back to the lower house.


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