Freedom of the Press Violated by Dutch State in Detention Photos Case

A secret contract imposed on a photographer who wanted to publish photos of a Dutch detention center constituted a violated of the freedom of expression.
The Department of Security and Justice applies censorship by demanding that photographer Robert Glas has to ask foregoing permission from the department every time he wants to publish photos he took earlier in alien detention centers.

The Court in The Hague condemned on December 29, 2015, the state of the Netherlands for violating the Dutch Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights when it imposed contractual conditions for the publishing of photos of detention centers. These detention centers hold irregular migrants in the Netherlands while they wait for expulsion.

Secret contract

The case had been brought to the court by the photographer Robert Glas, who made a photo series for the weekly magazine Vrij Nederland about the detention centers.

The Department of Security and Justice gave permission for this photo series only after the application for a temporary injunction, but did so via a secret contract stating that Glas was only allowed to have his photos republished after departmental permission in advance.

'Watchdog function'

According to the court, a contract of such nature is incompatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of expression). This article doesn’t only contain the freedom of expression, but also the freedom of gathering information and the "watchdog function" of the press and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

A violation of Article 10 of the ECHR is only allowed if a number of requirements has been fulfilled, according to precedent set down by the European Court of Human Rights when it decided the Sunday Times case.

Notably, two of these requirements were not met, according to the court: the presence of a "legal basis" and a "pressing social need." Moreover, because it concerned a foregoing limitation of publications, there are additional high demands on the foreseeability of the restrictions.

New images

The Dutch Association of Journalists NVJ and the international organization of journalists Reporters Without Borders had already stated that the state is guilty of censorship.

The Glas series contained pictures of solitary confinements and exercise cages in the detention centers, of which no images had earlier been available.

The ruling can be found here.