RSF and FPU call on the Netherlands to set an example as it tries suspects of the killing of journalist Peter R. de Vries

Press release
Peter R. de Vries, foto ANP
Peter R. de Vries, foto ANP

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Free Press Unlimited (FPU), strategic partners, will monitor the hearings in the case of journalist Peter R. de Vries starting at the Amsterdam Court on Tuesday 23 January. Both organisations ask the Netherlands, ranked 6th in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, to set an example in prosecuting all the perpetrators including the mastermind.

After initial setbacks, the Court of Amsterdam will start hearings on 23 January in two joint cases against nine individuals, suspected of having respectively executed and organised the murder of  veteran crime reporter Peter R. de Vries on 6 July 2021. Two of the individuals on trial, the alleged hitmen, were apprehended only a few hours after the crime. In the upcoming hearing, they will be tried together with individuals suspected of acting as middlemen and facilitation of the killing.

“FPU will closely follow this trial, as the assassination of Peter R. de Vries has made an unmistakable impact on the Dutch media landscape. His murder – the third in the Marengo-trial uncovering the criminal underworld – has painfully demonstrated the potential repercussions for those interfering with the power of organised crime, including journalists.“ Jasmijn de Zeeuw - Legal advisor at FPU

Peter R. de Vries was murdered by a shotgun in Amsterdam on 6 July 2021 after leaving the TV studio of RTL Boulevard. He passed away due to his injuries nine days later. Peter R. de Vries was one of the Netherlands’ most well-known crime reporters, having built his career on news-breaking revelations in criminal cases. From 2019 onwards, he became a trust person and advisor to crown witness Nabil B. in the turbulent Marengo-trial. This trial revolves around a criminal organisation accused of running, in the words of the Dutch Prosecutor, a professional ‘murder machine’. While seventeen suspects are on trial, the case focuses on Ridouan T. and Said R., accused of commissioning ten (attempted) murders and leading the organisation.

“Justice has not yet been fully served for any of the four assassinations of journalists in the European Union between 2017 and 2021, including that of Peter R. de Vries. The Netherlands’ rank in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index is 6th, the highest of all of the concerned countries. As proceedings in the de Vries case re-open, we call on the judicial authorities to set a European example in prosecuting all perpetrators including the mastermind of the killing.” Pavol Szalai - Head of the European Union-Balkans Desk at RSF

Leaked statements from a witness and one of the suspects indicate that the murder was linked to de Vries’ role in the trial, instead of his journalistic work. In earlier hearings, the Public Prosecutor also suggested the likelihood of this scenario – particularly given the murder of the brother of Nabil B. in 2018 and of one his  lawyers, Derk Wiersum in 2019.

Impact on Dutch journalism

While the murder was likely not directly connected to de Vries’ journalistic work, the case cannot be separated from his status as a journalist and from Dutch journalism. Already before his involvement as advisor, the police registered a threat to de Vries’ life in relation to the Marengo-case in April 2019. His status and visibility as a famous crime journalist likely increased the threat he posed as an advisor in the trial. Moreover, because of his work as a journalist, de Vries did not agree to protection measures that would prevent him from doing his work and meeting sources. As an investigation by the Dutch Safety Board showed, the responsible authorities failed to collaborate with de Vries and offer security measures tailored to his work. This is an issue faced by several Dutch crime reporters, as documented by a 2022 press freedom mission to the Netherlands.

This mission, and our ongoing conversations with Dutch journalists, also show the lasting impact of the murder on Dutch journalists and media. The murder of Peter R. de Vries was widely perceived as another indication that journalists are under threat when covering organised crime in the Netherlands. The case thereby further worsened the climate for Dutch (crime) reporters, already under stress in recent years due to  ongoing threats and  attacks.

The trial with the nine persons accused of being involved in the killing of the journalist is set to last until June 2024.

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