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Search of Ravage editorial office ‘justified’

5 December 2007 - The court of justice has ruled that a police search of the editorial office of activist magazine Ravage in 1996 was in part justified, because it could not be ruled out that new bomb attacks were to be carried out. Journalists’ union NVJ calls the ruling ‘unsatisfactory’.

In 1996, Ravage received a letter from the Earth Liberation Front, claiming responsibility for a bomb attack at Basf. Ravage published the claim and destroyed the letter to protect its source. Police searched the Ravage office and confiscated computers, addresses of subscribers, bank statements and other documents.

The Basf bomb attack was the third in a row. The court ruled that there was therefore ‘an overriding requirement in the public interest’ justifying the search. However, the police also confiscated material of which it is unclear how it should be relevant for preventing new attacks. The confiscation of this material violates the European Convention on Human Rights, according to the court.

Journalists’ union NVJ recently argued that journalists should have a legal right not to disclose their sources. Thomas Bruning of the NVJ argues that there can be specific circumstances in which such a right should not apply. If disclosing information can prevent a terrorist attack, journalists have a civic duty to do so.

However, Bruning is as yet not convinced that there was a concrete threat of further bomb attacks in 1996, and if so, whether searching the Ravage office was the only way to prevent them. In any case, the search was ‘quite something’ that should not be taken lightly.

When Parliament discussed whether journalists should have a legal right not to disclose their sources, Fred Teeven (VVD) argued that ‘activist types, whether they have a left-wing or right-wing orientation’, should not be allowed to hide behind such a right.

Bruning says the criterion should not be political orientation, but whether journalists are independent. “These days anyone can create a weblog. If [suspected top criminal] Holleeder was to build a weblog to pose as a journalist, judges would of course not fall for that”.

Ravage is considering appealing against the court ruling.

Illustration: material being confiscated during search (photo Ravage). Ravage (in Dutch), court session


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