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Dutch journalist's photographs seized, he is ordered to testify in human smuggling case

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

IFJ Condemns Canary Islands Judge for Forcing Journalist to Testify in Human Smuggling Case

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today condemned the decision by a judge in the Canary Islands to use Dutch photojournalist Joel Van Houdt's photos without his permission in the prosecution of a human smuggler bringing illegal immigrants to the Canary Islands.

"Joel is a professional journalist and as such has a right to professional confidentiality," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. "This decision will seriously imperil the work of investigative journalists who will lose access to all kinds of sensitive situations if their sources fear that the journalists may be forced to testify against them in court."

A judge from the local court in Arrecife ruled on Thursday that Van Houdt, a freelance journalist who has worked for numerous Dutch publications, must testify.

The ruling stems from a story that Van Houdt was working on about illegal immigration from Morocco to the Canary Islands, an archipelago near the North Africa coast that is an autonomous Spanish community.

Van Houdt travelled from Morocco to a small island close to Lanzarote on Sunday afternoon on a boat with undocumented migrants and took photographs, which he planned to sell to media, during the trip. The boat was intercepted by police. Van Houdt identified himself as a journalist but police still took him in for questioning until the early hours of Monday morning. The photo files from his digital camera were confiscated by police over the journalist's objections.

On Wednesday Van Houdt appeared in court with his local lawyer and gave a statement. He told the judge that due to professional confidentiality he would not reveal the name of the driver of the boat. He also requested that police return his photo files unseen. He requested that his materials not be used in any case against the smugglers.

The IFJ together with the NVJ (Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten) is calling on the judge to rescind his order that Van Houdt must testify and to ensure that Van Houdt's original materials are returned to him and that no copies are used in any legal case.

A similar case of Koen Voskuil, another Dutch journalist who was ordered to testify, brought to the European Court resulted in favour of the journalist protecting his sources.

"Journalists are not law enforcement officials and compelling them to participate in court cases contravenes journalists' professional rights," White said. "This practice could lead to self-censorship by journalists who will no longer be able to cover certain issues out of fears that they could get caught up in legal cases without their consent."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide.

For further information on the Koen Voskuil case, see:

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