Belgium

The unacceptable nature of the conviction

Belgian Foreign Minister, Karel De Gucht, has summoned the Afghan Ambassador following the death sentence handed down to 23-year-old Perwez Kambakhsh for downloading material from the internet relating to the role of women in Islamic societies.

De Gucht has expressed his displeasure at the death sentence to the Afghan Ambassador to Belgium, highlughting both the unacceptable nature of the conviction and the fact that the trial took place behind closed doors.

According to the Afghan Ambassador to Belgium, his countrys government is also concerned about the journalist. He added that Mr Kambakhsh has appealed against his sentence.

Council rules on art

Provincial authorities in Antwerp have blocked an exhibition planned by the citys Photo Museum, claiming that some of the photos are pornographic.

Before his death in 1979, Flemish author Louis Paul Boon had spent 25 years collecting photos illustrating all aspects of women and the Antwerp Photo Museum wanted to devote an exhibition to this collection.

The Antwerp provincial authorities had other ideas. One official told the VRT the photos he saw had nothing to do with art. “Its a collection of old-fashioned photos. Some of the images flirt with pornography.”

Lucky for the citizens of Antwerp that they have some over-zealous council official to tell them what is and isnt art, otherwise they might never have known.

Whistleblowers beware

German reporter Hans-Martin Tillacks claim that the European Commission punished him for exposing EU fraud by using the Belgian police to snatch his files has not been proved, EU courts in Luxembourg ruled this morning.

The court considers that there is not a sufficiently direct causal link between the forwarding of the information [that Mr Tillack bribed EU officials] by OLAF to the Belgian judicial authorities and the damage claimed in order for liability to be established on that basis, the Court of First Instance judgement stated.

The decision clears the way for the EU-anti fraud office, OLAF, to examine the reporters contact books - currently in Belgian police hands - in its hunt for an internal leak that helped Mr Tillack break major stories about EU corruption back in 2002.

It is also set to discourage other people from bringing similar accusations against non-transparent forms of cooperation between the EU anti-fraud authorities and national police.

The court also cleared OLAF of smearing the journalists name with public bribery allegations between 2002 and 2004, in a judgment that the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) sees as a blow against press freedom and democracy in the heart of the European Union.

“The court ruling does not change anything about the injustice of this case,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “It does not vindicate the European Commission or officials in OLAF who have behaved disgracefully in this affair by making unsubstantiated allegations and it does not deal with the appalling denial of justice by Belgian police who have still to make an official report on their investigation.”

The case of Tillack, an investigative journalist working for Stern magazine, arose after officials from the European Union anti-corruption unit OLAF complained to police about him, claiming that he had bribed officials for information. No evidence has emerged to sustain this complaint, but Belgian police raided his home and offices and seized papers and confidential documents. Three years after the incident there has been no official report and no charges laid against Tillack.

Death Threats in Belgium

VRT reports that Flemish daily, De Standaard, which published the Muhammed cartoons on Friday, has received a threatening email.

The email, written in poor English, was sent to almost the entire editorial staff at the paper. Strangely though, it was not sent to the papers editor Peter Vandermeersch.

The writer of the email warns the papers journalists you will die sooner than expected, be prepared yourself for judgement day.

De Standaard says that it published the cartoons to show solidarity with the Danish paper, at the centre of the controversy. It adds that freedom of speech is one of the basic values in a Western democracy.

Belgian philosopher, Etienne Vermeersch has also received, what he describes as negative emails. News channel CNN quoted from an interview Vermeersch gave to the Flemish daily Het Volk in which he said that Belgian newspapers should publish such cartoons every week to let Moslems get used to them.

Speaking in Mondays edition of De Standaard Vermeersch says that his words were taken out of context. He meant to say that over the years, Christians have become used to seeing satirical images of their religious figures.

He goes on to contrast the way in which the Christian and Islamic faiths handle criticism. Ive been attacking the Catholic church for 30 years, but the only reaction I ever get from them is that they will pray that I convert to the faith.

He also compared the dignified reaction by Buddhists to the destruction of the Afghan Buddha statues to the violent reaction by some Moslems to the cartoons. The Belgian Moslem Executive also comes under fire from Vermeersch.

The philosopher says that the executive should put the publication of the cartoons into perspective and realise that some of its statements, in recent days could provoke extreme reactions.

Belgians boycott Carrefour

The Brussels Journal reports that Carrefour Egypt has stopped importing and receiving Danish products from any supplier, and is removing all Danish products already on its shelves. This has triggered an email campaign in Belgium calling for a boycott of the French supermarket chain.

In other news, Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita has joined the fray by publishing two of the cartoons.

The editor, Grzegorz Gauden, commented that the European press has divided into two camps: those who decided to publish and those who explain why they are not going to do it. The editorial board, while recognizing the controversional nature of pictures’ contents, totally rejected the methods resorted to by the opponents of the publication: burning of national banners, terrorist threats, etc. Free press and free states cannot give in to this sort of pressure, was the unsurprising conclusion.

Radio Polonia reports that the paper has been criticised by Polish politicians.

We Are All Danes Now

VRT reports that the Flemish press has weighed in to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammed cartoon controversy, strongly on the side of the right to satire.

The Daily Het Volk opens with freedom of speech essential for democracy .

De Standaard asks why we should respect a religion when this religion does not respect dissenting opinions. The daily also published the contested Danish cartoons, albeit on page 54.

Het Nieuwsblad opens with a cartoon of a figure wearing a burka [below]. Muhammad in disguise says the subtext.

The newspaper also published a connect-the-dots version of the Danish cartoon in which Muhammad is depicted as a terrorist, saying Earn your own Fatwa

De Morgen writes that we are all Danish when it comes to defending freedom of speech and a free press.

Het Laatste Nieuws has been talking to Flemish cartoonist, Kamagurka, who admits that he no longer dares to produce cartoons that mock Islam.

He says that it should be able to laugh at everything but that he is not going to be the one to do it. He is not too keen on having stones thrown through his window.

In Het Laatste Nieuws, he said that he thinks this is horrible but that he has his children to worry about.

In other news, The Brussels Journal has reproduced the France Soir front page and provides a timely reminder that, although the cartoons were originally published way back in September, the current controversy didnt get going until a group of Danish imams took the cartoons - along with three that theyd done themselves - to the Arab world in order to whip up a riot.

In mid-January, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said of these radicals:

I am speechless that those people, whom we have given the right to live in Denmark and where they freely have chosen to stay, are now touring Arab countries and inciting antipathy towards Denmark and the Danish people.

If a hate crime has been committed, this group of Muslims is guilty.