Dutch State not accountable for 1977 train hijackers' deaths, court rules

Hostage situation at De Punt (day 14), negotiators leave
Hostage situation at De Punt (day 14), negotiators leavePeters, Hans / AnefoWikimedia CommonsCC-0

The Dutch State is not accountable for the death of two hijackers in the liberation of a hijacked train at De Punt in 1977, the court in The Hague ruled on Wednesday. There are no indications that the soldiers shot the hijackers without necessity, it was not proven that the government gave them a secret order to kill the hijackers, and the instructions given to the soldiers before the liberation were lawful, the court ruled, NU.nl reports.

This lawsuit was filed in 2014 by relatives of Max Papilaja and Hansina Uktolseja, the only female hijacker. Their families believe that they were deliberately executed at close range. Autopsy reports showed that the man and woman may have been shot after they were severely wounded and defenseless on the floor. 

According to the court, it has not been proven that soldier 5B, designated as such to guarantee anonymity, fired the shot that killed Papilaja. "It could also be that a bullet fired from outside the train led to his death", the court said. It was established that soldier 5B shot Papilaja, but there is no evidence that 5B deliberately killed the man. "The soldier considered the violence necessary", the judge said. "Only afterwards it could be established that Papilaja was no longer a danger."

In the case of Uktolseja there was also so-called 'honest belief', the court ruled. The two soldiers who shot at the woman, 2B and 2C, thought it was necessary, according to the court. Here too it could only be concluded afterwards that the violence was not necessary. 

Liesbeth Zegveld, the lawyer representing the relatives, announced that they will appeal immediately after the ruling. "The military actions were not tested in this case, and that is unimaginable." The lawyer is particularly baffled by the 'honest belief' part of the ruling in Uktolseja's case. "Hansina was shot through the head from two meters", Zegveld said, according to the newspaper. "And we think that's okay because there was honest belief. Come on guys. Then we don't have to test anything anymore."

Papilaja and Uktolseja were part of a group of nine armed Moluccans who hijacked the train from Assen to Groningen at the Drenthe town of De Punt on 23 May 1977. The chief conductor, the train driver and 40 passengers were allowed to leave the train, according to NU.nl. 54 other passengers were held hostage in the train. On 11 June 1977, fighter jets flew over the train to distract the hijackers, and soldiers were deployed to liberate the train. The action succeeded, but eight people were killed, six hijackers and two hostages. Six hostages, two soldiers and one hijacker were injured.

Zegveld wanted to call new witnesses, including former prime minister Dries van Agt and former commanders, to prove that there was a secret order from the government to kill the hijackers. The court denied this request, saying that there are insufficient indications that such an order was given. Eleven soldiers were questioned in this trial in September and October. They all said that they were not ordered to kill the hijackers and that it was made clear that they should not shoot any hijacker that "observably surrendered". 

Lawyer Zegveld claimed that the soldiers' testimonies were unreliable, but this too the court pushed aside. "Nothing shows that they did not state the truth."