Belgian Court Confirms Right To Publish Pictures of Police Officers

The Brussels Court of First Instance has ruled in favour of the organisers of the photography exhibition “Don’t Shoot”, by recognising the right to publish un-blurred photographs of police officers performing their duties in public spaces.

This November the League of Human Rights (LDH), ZinTV, the Krasnyi Collective and Frédéric Moreau de Bellaing (a photographer), organised the first edition of “DON’T SHOOT”, a collective photography exhibition that has both artistic and educational purposes.

Exhibition shows police acting against migrants and citizens movements

The photographs show the police acting in public spaces against migrants, social movements and organised citizens, with the aim of reporting how these groups have had their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly violated. The exhibition also aims to launch a debate on this serious issue.

Police bring court action

In October, the Brussels police district and four of its members (who recognised themselves in some photographs displayed as part of the exhibition) brought a court action against the three associations. The police officers claimed that the exhibition constituted a violation of their right to privacy, right to control their image and rights to honour and reputation, as they can be recognised on the photographs that show them performing their official duties in a public space.

Brussels court rules that police officers’ privacy was not violated.

On 24 October, the Court of First Instance in Brussels decided that there was no justification for prohibiting the exhibition of (un-pixelated) photographs showing police officers working. This decision is a relief and a victory for the exhibition’s organisers, and a big victory for the freedom of information of all journalists and citizens in Belgium.

Court recognises the significance of police actions on society

In its ruling, the Court recognised the journalistic and educational purposes of the exhibition as well as the significance of the issue at stake: the reporting of police brutality, which is an issue of public interest. The court ruled that police officers are regarded as public persons who give tacit approval to have their images recorded for information purposes. Accordingly, the photographs of police officers in the exhibition did not constitute a disproportionate interference with their rights. The court also empathised that the media acts as a watchdog when reflecting the reality of police actions.

Exhibition organisers to pay damages for text that damaged reputations of specific officers

However, the Court ordered the organisers to compensate two of the four police officers, saying that the descriptions of the photographs tarnished their reputations. However, the organisers themselves did not actually write these blurbs and they are considering an appeal against this decision.

In any case, the Court confirmed the right to publish un-blurred images of police officers performing their official duties in public spaces. The organisers are determined to continue to show the exhibition “DON’T’SHOOT” in order to open a debate on this issue of public concern. The next exhibition will be held at the Mimouna Festival, from 30 November to 1 December 2019, at the former Josaphat Train Station in Schaerbeek.