Two reporters and three technical staff of the French-speaking public broadcaster RTBF were arrested yesterday while reporting on a demonstration against a new centre for refugees in Steenokkerzeel outside Brussels. The demonstrators oppose the creation of a new closed detention centre for asylum-seekers close to the existing – highly contested – centre near Brussels Airport. As well as the RTBF staff, a number of demonstrators were also arrested.
The journalists were quickly released, but the reactions were swift. The RTBF said it was looking into the possibility of legal action. The journalists’ association AJP said it would take the matter up with prime minister Charles Michel and home affairs minister Jan Jambon, responsible for police matters.
Michel, meanwhile, took to Twitter to post the following message:
“Belgium is a country of laws. The freedom of the press is guaranteed. The work of maintaining order by the police should be respected. Clarity will be provided.”
The team was working on their reportage when police asked them to stop filming. When they refused, police seized their equipment, including telephones, and took them into custody. One of the journalists, Himad Messoudi, was however wearing an internet-connected watch, which he used to file a report to the RTBF news from detention.
“Right at this moment we are in a police van. They are taking us to a police station. I repeat, we were not taking part in any violent action. Not at all. All we were doing is filming what was going on. The same goes for he Not in My Name group who had taken over the location very peacefully,” he said.
According to Jean-Pierre Jacqmin, director of news at the RTBF, the arrests represent “a serious and exceptional obstacle to the freedom of information. This was an abusive detention. The journalists were doing their job in a professional manner. The RTBF will consider with its lawyers what steps to take.”