Journalist fined €2,000 for alleged fake bomb at barracks

Gavel with lady justice in the background
Gavel with lady justice in the backgroundPhoto: SergPoznanskiy/DepositPhotos

A television show presenter was fined two thousand euros for leaving a briefcase in the mess hall of an army base, the court in Zutphen said Monday in its ruling. Prosecutors alleged that the attache case left in 2018 by investigative journalist Alberto Stegeman at the Oldebroek military site was designed to look like a real bomb as part of an investigative report into base security.

Stegeman disagreed, saying that the briefcase was not at all meant to give that appearance, but rather to look like something that should have raised suspicion on first glance only. He said it was an object which neither posed a threat, nor looked like it posed a threat. The defendant also said that he could apply the Dutch legal concept of "journalistic exception" to this case because if he broke a law he did so to expose a problem that affects society at large, specifically weak security at a military site.

In issuing its ruling on Monday the court disagreed with both arguments. The briefcase itself included material like a white substance which had the consistency of clay, hardware nuts, a box cutter, a phone, personal papers and photographs, white cabling and a box containing a camera stuck together with black tape. "Due to the use of black tape, the entire contents of the box were not immediately visible," the court said in a statement. It was "difficult to imagine" that "the situation could immediately be assessed as not life threatening" in such a situation just because the defendant also placed some personal affects in the case.

The court ordered Stegeman to pay the fine, but rejected a prosecution demand of community service. Prosecutors said they wanted the court to impose a community service order of 120 hours with 40 conditionally suspended.

"Because Stegeman acted from a journalistic point of view and in the name of his profession, the court does not impose a community service order but [only] a fine," the court said. It determined the fine because Stegeman had also been fined in the past for crossing the line in the court's eyes.