Update. 30/01/2008. Hans-Martin Tillack, the Stern investigative journalist who was taken from his apartment and detained by Belgian police early one morning in 2004 after he published articles on suspected fraud at Eurostat, has been exonerated by the European Court of Human Rights.
The court awarded Tillack â‚¬30,000 for legal expenses, plus â‚¬10,000 for moral damages. The award is against the Belgian police, despite the fact that they were acting on files passed to them by OLAF, the EUâ€™s anti-fraud department (a Belgian law was subsequently introduced in 2005 to provide improved protection for journalists’ sources).
The judgment is seen as a victory for the journalist in his long-running case against the European Commission, which has repeatedly distanced itself from any responsibility (in a press release commenting on the ECHR case, the Commission described OLAF as â€œentirely independent”).
The ultra sensitive issue over Eurostat, the EUâ€™s statistics department, dates back to alleged irregularities between the 1990s and around 2002. So far, nothing more solid has emerged than continuing investigations.
Tillack had his documents, computers and mobile phones removed by the Belgian police as part of their investigation. Any of them may have revealed his information sources. According to Tillackâ€™s legal counsel, Ian Forrester, â€œthe right of journalists not to reveal their sources is not a privilege, but part of the right to information”.
The financial award to Tillack by the ECHR has to be paid by the Belgian Government, that is, by the Belgian taxpayer.