By Reinhardt Jacobsen | IDN-InDepthNews Report,
A Court in Amsterdam struck down Meseret Bahlbi lawsuit against Mirjam van Reisen, Dutch professor and human rights advocate. The judge found that she was not guilty of libel and slander and that the youth party of the Eritrean government can be seen as a means of collecting intelligence abroad.
The decision comes as a huge relief not only for the Dutch professor, but also for the Eritrean diaspora [opposition] across Europe.
When the case was heard on January 27, 2016 in Amsterdam the focus was more about the nature of the government in Eritrea, and the role played by its supporters in Europe. The court room was packed to overflowing, mostly by Eritreans from the diaspora in Europe. The majority came to support Mirjam van Reisen. She was being sued for libel and slander by Bahlbi, an Eritrean residing in the Netherlands.
Although the legal action centred on remarks made by the professor on Dutch radio, it quickly became apparent that this case was about more than the comments. On February 10, 2016, the judge ruled that van Reisen had no case to answer and awarded damages against Bahlbi in her favour. The ruling ensured that opinions based on research and evidence would not be muted, and should not be silenced by those who disagree.
Although certainly not the crux of the matter, it is important to understand the background of the case. On May 21, 2015 van Reisen expressed concern that two interpreters [Bahlbi’s brothers] for the Dutch Immigration Office were siblings of the “centre of the Eritrean intelligence in the Netherlands”.
Bahlbi’s name was not mentioned during the interview for BNR Nieuwsradio [although she referred to him by saying the brother of two interpreters for the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) “is the pivot of the intelligence service in Eritrea”], but he felt it was clear that the statemented referred to him. This is because Bahlbi is the former head of the Young People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (YPFDJ) in the Netherlands, a nationalist Eritrean Diaspora youth organisation connected to the Eritrean ruling party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).
>> ALSO READ : Meseret Bahlbi – The Antithsis of “Linchpin Spy’
Following van Reisen’s comments, Bahlbi filed a legal action for libel and slander. In the judgement, the judge declared that van Reisen’s statements were warranted and that she had provided sufficient evidence of the facts.
In the Amsterdam court room, both the prosecution and the defence spent little time debating the facts of what was said. Instead, arguments centred on the relationship between the YPFDJ and the PFDJ, conditions in Eritrea, why so many Eritreans were fleeing their country and the existence of the Eritrean secret services in the Netherlands.
Van Reisen’s lawyer strove to show that the YPFDJ was the “eyes and ears” of the Eritrean government. The court’s decision accepts this to be the reality. A common headline across Dutch newspapers was De lange arm van Eritrea, or the ‘long arm of Eritrea’. The arm not only refers to intelligence gathering, but also to intimidation. UN personnel, journalists and van Reisen herself [have been saying they] all been subjected to intimidation from members of the YPFDJ because they have drawn attention to the human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime and its supporters.
Professor van Reisen has expressed her relief that the judge ruled in her favour, but also expressed concern and continued to advocate for those fleeing from and suffering in Eritrea. She told the Dutch press “I now know what it feels like to be Eritrean” having witnessed the legal and less than legal attempts to silence her. Overjoyed with the news of her judgement, van Reisen posted on Facebook: “victory to all justice seekers. Together we will continue to pursue the truth.”
The court’s decision sends a strong message – the Netherlands is an open democracy where evidence based criticism is legitimate. The rule of law, democracy and freedom of speech, values that the EU and the Netherlands stand for, have been defended. Values which Eritreans do not enjoy in their own country.
*NOTE: Narratives in square bracket are from TN editor for elaboration purposes.
Contradicting ‘Rule Of Law’
By Meseret Bahlbi,
As most of you might have heard, my request to rectify the libelous remarks about me by Mirjam Van Reisen was denied today by a civil court in Amsterdam.
My point as a DUTCH-citizen to start a law case was because I was falsely accused of being the center of the intelligence service of Eritrea in the Netherlands. Contradicting the ruling of today, this most important point was acknowledged by the court: ‘there is no evidence that prosecutor is involved in the intelligence service‘.
Yet the judge makes it a political issue and argues that she (the judge) will judge from the perspective of me being politically affiliated and active supported of the Eritrean government. Hold up!? Why should it matter what my political color is? Does she consider the political view of Van Reisen? No! What if I was a white Dutch man who adores Mark Rutte instead of a black Dutch man with different political opinion. It is a choice to make some irrelevant points relevant.
I sued her on personal title. Never was any politics involved in this issue. I , Meseret Bahlbi, Dutch-Eritrean have sued her, not the Eritrean government or YPFDJ like Van Reisen tries to make it look like. This is not about rule of law in Eritrea or wherever. Although Van Reisen shows her true colors when she claims its hypocritical to sue her while not allowing rule of law in Eritrea. This racist morality behind such remarks is obvious. First of all we are equal Dutch citizens, and Van Reisen is not above the law. Secondly, why does Van Reisen thinks she cares more about the rule of law in Eritrea than I do? It’s all meant to divert the media from her lies. Not only the media is mislead but also the judge.
Most disturbing thing is that the judge puts words in the mouth of my lawyer which he didn’t say. While she has his statements printed inside her desk. How is this possible? Many questions unanswered. Time to reflect and think.
Just for your understanding, this is not a final verdict. This is only a temporary verdict. It’s only the beginning of something much bigger. It’s about citizenship, equality and rule of law in the Netherlands for NON-whites.
Good night all. A Luta Continua!
For now just enjoy Ta-Nehisi Coates from ‘Between the world and me’: “You are called to struggle, not because it assures you victory but because it assures you an honorable and sane life.”