BELGIUM: Police sues associations and photographer for exhibition on police violence

(Collective ZIN TV) On Tuesday 5 March, a photographer, a collective of photographers, an association of media and a human rights association will be sued by the police services. For what reason? For organizing a photographic exhibition aimed at debating important issues on subjects of public interest. The programme includes a collective exhibition on the repression of freedom of expression in the public space, the increasing criminalisation of social movements, migrants, citizens and journalists, police violence, the right to film the police, the use of weapons with reduced lethality to manage demonstrations, etc. Questions that remain very topical…

Are we talking about Turkey here? Hungary? Poland? No, Belgium. Indeed, the persecuted are the League of Human Rights, ZinTV, the Krasnyi Collective and a photographer. By whom? By the Brussels-Ixelles police and 3 of its members. On what basis? Violation of privacy and violation of the honour and reputation of the police officers concerned.

In November 2018, LDH, ZinTV and Krasnyi organized a joint exhibition, both artistic and educational, to address themes with which they are regularly confronted. The objective was to inform the public and debate these social issues. In short, to achieve their respective missions by making use of one of their most fundamental rights: freedom of expression.

What did the Brussels-Ixelles police and some of its members think? They described it as an invasion of the privacy of the police officers, despite the fact that they are represented while on duty.

They therefore decided to file a lawsuit against our 3 associations and one of the photographers concerned, asking for the modest sum of 2500 euros per police officer, in clear contrast with both freedom of expression and the right to information the public – recognised by the European Court of Human Rights and the European Union Court of Justice.

The police should be reminded that both Belgian and European courts have repeatedly affirmed the right to film and broadcast images of the police. Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights has just recently recalled that

“[t]here is no doubt that the conduct of officials in the exercise of their public duty and the possible consequences of such conduct on [individuals] are of the public interest” (ECHR, Toranzo Gomez v. Spain, 20 November 2018).

The European Court of Justice has just recognised that a citizen who films the police in operation in order to criticise his or her behaviour and then disseminates the images can invoke the exception of journalism if his or her sole purpose is to disclose information, opinions or ideas to the public (ECJ, Buivids v. Latvia, 14 February 2019).

It should be noted that the photos show that none of these police officers wore a name tag or an identification number that would identify them. This is also contrary to the law, which requires that

“Every police officer and agents on duty must be identifiable in all circumstances” (Art. 41, § 1, para. 1 of the Police Functions Act).

While the events took place more than 3 months ago, the lawsuit comes at a time when two police officers from the same area are being sent back to prison for violating the rights of journalists from… ZinTV.

Pure coincidence? In any case, the violation of both the profession of journalist and human rights defender is obvious. The associations concerned are determined to defend their fundamental rights to the end. We will meet in court.

Press contacts:
Manuel Lambert, Legal Adviser League of Human Rights: 0479/86.90.81
Ronnie Ramirez, ZinTV Spokesperson: 0476/
Bernard Mouffe, lawyer: 0473/37.06.07

Translated with