20th May 2019

EU court rejects German journalist case

An EU court has rejected a case brought by a German journalist concerning the protection of journalistic sources.

The European Court of First Instance on Friday (15 October) rejected an application for "interim measures" by Hans-Martin Tillack, which would have meant that possessions of his, seized earlier in the year by Belgian police, would not be allowed to be inspected by the EU's anti-fraud office (OLAF).

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  • Hans-Martin Tillack (Photo: Jasper Carlberg)

Mr Tillack, an investigative journalist working for Stern Magazine, brought the case against the European Commission on the grounds that if OLAF - for which it is responsible - is allowed to inspect the material seized by the police then his sources will be compromised.

The court rejected both this claim and the one for damages on the grounds that there is not enough legal basis for the claims.

The International Federation of Journalists, which has been following his case closely and intervened on his behalf in Court case, called Friday's decision "disturbing".

"This whole issue has opened up a serious question in terms of protection of sources", said Robert Shaw of the IFJ saying that it was "difficult" that the question was back in the hands of the Belgian authorities.

Mr Shaw added that the IFJ "would fully support" Mr Tillack if he were to appeal his case.

Two year history

The whole issue started in 2002 when Mr Tillack published articles in Stern about alleged irregularities in OLAF based on internal documents from the organisation.

OLAF then released a press statement saying it was possible that someone had been bribed to get the documents - something which Stern magazine refuted.

It also opened an internal investigation into who could have leaked the documents.

Earlier this year it sent the results of the internal investigation to the Belgian authorities resulting in a police search and confiscation of Mr Tillack's files and computer in March.

Mr Tillack then brought the case to court on the grounds that OLAF should not be allowed to inspect his possessions - for protection of sources reason - and for damages.

It is unclear whether the journalist will be able to appeal his case.

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