“This conviction signals a failing system of legal safeguards for whistleblowers”, says the Director of Free Press Unlimited, Leon Willems. “The crisis caused by the financial sector is still fresh, and yet the sector refuses to be publicly accountable. The support provided by tax authorities to multinationals is downright scandalous when everywhere else in Europe people are tightening their belts because of the financial crisis.”
“There is no decent system of legal safeguards for whistleblowers in Europe,” says Willems. Also in the Netherlands there has been no legal protection for whistleblowers until now. In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights judged that the Netherlands failed to safeguard press freedom and the protection of journalistic sources. However, this now seems to be changing. As of July 1 2016, the Law “Huis voor Klokkenluiders” will come into force. This law entails the foundation of an independent organization (Advice Centre For Whistleblowers) that will advise and support private and public sector workers in reporting their concerns about wrongdoing. It is not yet clear whether this law will offer legal protection for whistleblowers.
Dark day for truth-telling
The Whistleblowing International Network (WIN), a coalition of organizations supporting whistleblowers worldwide, has also expressed its dismay at the conviction: “This is a dark day for truth-telling in Europe,” said Anna Myers, Co-Chair of WIN and Executive Director of The Government Accountability Project in Washington DC. “Deltour and Halet acted in the public interest. The conviction sends out the message that the commercial interests of Pricewaterhouse Coopers and its clients are more important than the public’s right to know about potential abuses of EU tax systems,” she added.
According to Willems, the case of Antoine Deltour and Luxleaks is a good example of citizens serving the public interest without seeking to profit from their disclosures. “The conviction of these two whistleblowers also proves the importance of anonymous leaking platforms, like Publeaks.”
Free Press Unlimited urges the Dutch EU commissioner, Frans Timmermans, and the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders, to put legal safeguards for whistleblowers on the agenda. The EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Stavros Lambrinidis, and the Dutch Human Rights Ambassador, Kees van Baar, should plead for adding a whistleblower’s protection clause to the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Expression online and offline.