Global Freedom of Expression

The case of an arson attack on the editorial offices of De Telegraaf

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    September 28, 2020
  • Outcome
    Imprisonment
  • Case Number
    ECLI numbers: ECLI:NL:RBAMS:2020:4740 / ECLI:NL:RBAMS:2020:4744
  • Region & Country
    Netherlands, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Violence Against Speakers / Impunity
  • Tags
    Violence

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Criminal Law Section of the District Court Amsterdam (a court of first instance) sentenced two men to prison for 10 and 4.5 years respectively on 28 September 2020. The men were convicted for setting fire to the editorial offices of Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf and for membership of a criminal organisation focused on car crime. De Telegraaf was awarded over 200,000 Euros in material damages. The Court stressed the vital importance of press freedom in a democratic society and held that through their actions, both defendants had attacked press freedom.


Facts

On 26 June 2018, a stolen van deliberately drove twice into the glass facade of the headquarters of the Dutch newspaper, De Telegraaf. The van was subsequently set on fire. The perpetrators fled in another car, which was later found burnt out in North Amsterdam. 

The public prosecutor filed charges for a prison sentence of 12 and 9 years. With regard to the arson attack on De Telegraaf, the prosecutor argued that the defendants were guilty of theft of the van, intentionally setting fire and causing an explosion in (the vicinity of) the Telegraaf building, intentionally destroying or damaging the Telegraaf Building and for setting fire to the car in North Amsterdam. These acts are prohibited under Articles 310, 157 and 170 of the Dutch Criminal Code. The defendants contested these claims, arguing that no concrete evidence was found in support of these claims. 


Decision Overview

Judge President Mr. A.A. Spoel delivered the judgments of the District Court Amsterdam. 

Issues before the court

The first issue for the Court to determine was whether the defendants were guilty of destroying or damaging the Telegraaf building, arson and theft. Article 170 of the Dutch Criminal Code states that “any person who intentionally destroys or damages any building or structure…” shall be liable to a term of imprisonment. Article 157 of the Dutch Criminal Code prohibits persons from intentionally setting fire or causing an explosion. Article 310 of the Dutch Criminal Code criminalises theft. 

The second issue was to determine an appropriate sentence for the charges. 

Parties’ submissions

The public prosecutor argued among other things that the actions of the defendants amounted to a breach of Articles 310, 157 and 170 of the Dutch Criminal Code, and filed charges for a prison sentence of 12 and 9 years. The prison sentences differed, depending on the level of involvement of both defendants in the committed crimes. The defendants contested these claims. 

Court’s findings and reasoning 

With regard to the first issue, the Criminal Law Section of the District Court Amsterdam held that one of the defendants was an accomplice of the arson attack, rather than having jointly committed the offence. However, the Court held that the evidence supported the other claims of the prosecutor. The Court therefore ruled that the defendants were guilty of destroying or damaging the Telegraaf building, of (being an accomplice to) arson and of theft [p. 21 and p. 22]. 

With regard to the length of the sentence, the court held that a long prison sentence would be appropriate. In its reasoning, the Court stated that even though the defendants’ exact motives could not be derived from the evidence, the arson was threatening to all people working in the Telegraaf building. It held that the attack could be seen as a targeted attack against the Telegraaf, which frequently reports about organized crime. The Court mentioned that the actions of the defendants were threatening, especially to journalists. The Court stressed the importance of press freedom and it considered the arson attack to be an attack on the freedom of the press.

Conclusion and damages 

To conclude, the Court held that the defendants were guilty of destroying or damaging the Telegraaf building, of arson and of theft, sentencing them to 10 and 4.5 year prison sentences. The Court ruled that both defendants were involved  in the crimes committed with regard to the arson attack, but to a different extent. Amongst other things, the defendant sentenced to prison for 4.5 years was found to be an accomplice of the arson attack and the damaging of the Telegraaf building. The defendant sentenced to prison for 10 years was found to have committed the arson attack on the Telegraaf building. Both defendants were also members of a criminal organization focused on car crime. In this regard, the defendant sentenced to prison for 10 years committed more (serious) crimes, including the engagement in intentional handling of stolen property in multiple instances. Moreover, the Court ruled that he was the director of the organisation focussed on car crime.

The Court also awarded De Telegraaf material damages of 205,443.12 Euros.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

Expands freedom of expression. In its reasoning, the Court specifically mentions the importance of press freedom and perceives the attack to be an attack on the free press. The Court found a long prison sentence to be appropriate, given the impact and severity of the actions of the defendants. 

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents

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