Court: Media can publish private WhatsApp messages from key witness in assassinations trial
Newspaper AD is allowed to publish an article about key witness Nabil B. in the Marengo assassinations trial containing messages between him and family members, the court in Amsterdam ruled in summary proceedings filed by B.'s lawyer Peter Schouten. The newspaper published the article at 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday, saying it sheds "a new light on the role of the key witness".
AD crime reporter Yelle Tieleman read some 3 thousand text messages Nabil B. exchanged from prison with his girlfriend and family. B. was allowed to have a cellphone in his cell between September 2017 and February 2018. In the WhatsApp messages quoted by AD, B. talks about his negotiations with the Public Prosecutor (OM) and his attempts to earn something from his testimony against alleged criminal kingpin Ridouan Taghi.
"This is going to be the biggest case ever in terms of assassinations. Shouldn't we get the most out of it?" one text read, according to the newspaper. The messages also showed that B. and his family knew that his key witness deal with the OM would be made public in March 2018. After B.'s brother Reduan was murdered shortly after this announcement, B. claimed that he didn't know the OM would make the deal public.
Lawyer Schouten filed a lawsuit against ADR Nieuwsmedia, which AD is part of, in an attempt to stop the publication of this article. He called the article "tendentious, false and incorrect" and said that the "substantiation is suggestive", NOS reports. ADR Nieuwsmedia argued that the messages involved would be made public in court on Tuesday during a hearing in the Marengo trial, so they may as well publish it.
The court ruled in ADR Nieuwsmedia's favor, saying that a publication ban is very serious and that "the interest of freedom of expression outweighs the interest of protecting the honor an reputation of the claimants."
Reporter Yelle Tieleman told NOS radio program Met het Oog op Morgen that he was baffled by the lawsuit. "I have never experienced that you write an article, and as a good journalist get a rebuttal, and then suddenly a lawsuit appears," he said. "During the hearing, it was then about points you normally talk about in rebuttal: 'this is not quite right, we understand this differently' and so on. Normally you just talk about it openly and honestly, and possibly make corrections".
According to Tieleman, the texts and his article may make Nabil B. seem "more unreliable" as key witness. "Some of his messages seem to be at odds with his previous statements. The image also existed before that his family consists of all socially successful people, with only Nabil as the black sheep. These messages can change that image."
The Marengo trial will continue at the high security court in Amsterdam Oosdorp on Tuesday. Main suspect Ridouan Taghi and 16 others are facing charges of involvement in multiple assassinations, attempted assassinations, and planned assassinations.