Your excellencies, honorable guests, ladies and gentlemen. I feel privileged to stand here, honouring all the journalists who gave their lives for delivering us the truth. Today, we’ve gathered in support of these truth fighters, as press freedom is not a universal given and they paid the ultimate prize.
First encounters with the fight for freedom
Please allow me to take you back to my youth. The stories of my father about his time with the Dutch resistance-movement during the Second World War, were my first encounters with the fight for freedom. One in particular is imprinted in my memory. The story of him crossing the Dam Square in Amsterdam while it was full of German soldiers. Under his arm he had an simple grosery bag, filled with food stamps, meant for Jews in hiding. In fear he crossed the square but remained unharmed.
Why did he take this risk? He simply felt he had to do something, to fight for freedom. He remained active in the resistance until he had to flee for his life two years later. Thanks to my father and many others, just ordinary people, I grew up and now live in a free democracy in which press freedom is still a protected human right. By law.
But, let’s not take this freedom for granted.
Violence against journalists
Look around. Press freedom is currently under threat all over the world. The fight for truth is one that is waged on a daily basis by journalists. I am thinking in particular about the recent case of Saudi Journalist Jamal Kashoggi, brutally murdered for his critical articles about the rulers of Saudi Arabia. Kashoggi's case sparked an international outcry and has been on the front pages of international media for weeks.
But Kashoggi's case is just one – grueling – example. The majority of cases of violence against journalists are followed by silence and soon disappear into oblivion.
For instance, who is familiar with Abdulmoneem Eassa from Syria? Eassa exposed war crimes in the ongoing siege of Eastern Ghouta, and in response became a target of serious threats by both sides of the conflict. Or who has heard of Rana Ayyub from India? Rana has faced intense harassment in response to her publications, both online and offline. She received death threats and her phone number and address were made public. And who knows the young journalist Kemi Busari from Nigeria?
These are only three names of journalists from Syria, Nigeria and India the general public hardly knows about. I am pleased to say that they are here today to get the recognition for their brave and crucial work.
Press freedom is under attack
But violence against journalists also takes place in respected democracies in Europe. I am thinking in particular about Daphne Caruana Galizia from Malta, and Jan Kuciak from Slovakia. Dahpne’s son Paul Caruana Galizia and Jan’s colleague Martin Turcek are here today to share their personal stories so that we will not forget how brave Paul’s mother and Martin’s colleague were. Thank you for joining us.
Despite the fact that the Netherlands still ranks third on the global World Press Freedom Index, and that press freedom is a human right, also here press freedom is under attack. Since last year at least 59 Dutch journalists have received threats, because of their job. Fortunately the Dutch government takes this serious. The minister of Foreign Affairs, mr Blok himself will underline this in his speech later. Paul Vugts and Jeroen Akkermans, two Dutch journalists, will share their stories about experiences of violence with you today.
Stop this spiral of violence
This place, the Peace Palace in The Hague, the international city of justice, is the perfect place to talk about action to stop the violence against journalists. Is there something we can do to stop this spiral of violence? I believe we can.
We, you, ordinary people, must raise our voices. To let those who want to harm journalists know that their crimes will be exposed and that they will be held accountable – if not by the judiciary then by us. The media and ordinary people.
Public attention is necessary
Khashoggi’s case showed us that continuous public attention is necessary to bring out facts and details. His colleagues of the Washington Post, CNN and New York Times kept the pressure on the lid, forcing involved actors to respond. I”m just saying, the community of journalists can also play an important role to turn the tide.
You, we, ordinary people, must bang the drum when violence against journalists takes place. We must not accept when authorities obstruct the course of justice when journalists are murdered or threatend. If one person can make a difference by standing up, imagine what all of us can accomplish if we stand up to protest the violence against journalists together.
Press freedom must not be taken for granted. We should keep fighting to preserve it, for us and for future generations.
I hope that the stories of today will serve as an inspiration to you all, to stand up if violence against journalists takes place. By ordinary people, like us, like my father so many years ago. To stand up for justice and press freedom. Together.