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AMSTERDAM (IDN) - A Court in Amsterdam struck down Meseret Bahlbi lawsuit against Mirjam van Reisen, Dutch professor and human rights advocate. The judge found that she was not guilty of libel and slander and

AMSTERDAM (IDN) – A Court in Amsterdam struck down Meseret Bahlbi lawsuit against Mirjam van Reisen, Dutch professor and human rights advocate. The judge found that she was not guilty of libel and slander and that the youth party of the Eritrean regime can be seen as a means of collecting intelligence abroad. The decision comes as a huge relief not only for the Dutch professor, but also for the Eritrean diaspora across Europe.

When the case was heard on January 27, 2016 in Amsterdam the focus was more about the nature of the regime in Eritrea, and the role played by its supporters in Europe. The court room was packed to overflowing, mostly by Eritreans from the diaspora in Europe. The majority came to support Mirjam van Reisen. She was being sued for libel and slander by Bahlbi, an Eritrean residing in the Netherlands.

Although the legal action centred on remarks made by the professor on Dutch radio, it quickly became apparent that this case was about more than the comments. On February 10, 2016, the judge ruled that van Reisen had no case to answer and awarded damages against Bahlbi in her favour. The ruling ensured that opinions based on research and evidence would not be muted, and should not be silenced by those who disagree.

Although certainly not the crux of the matter, it is important to understand the background of the case. On May 21, 2015 van Reisen expressed concern that two interpreters for the Dutch Immigration Office were siblings of the “centre of the Eritrean intelligence in the Netherlands”.

Bahlbi’s name was not mentioned during the interview for BNR Nieuwsradio, but he felt it was clear that the statemented referred to him. This is because Bahlbi is the former head of the Young People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (YPFDJ) in the Netherlands, a nationalist Eritrean Diaspora youth organisation connected to the Eritrean ruling party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).

Following van Reisen’s comments, Bahlbi filed a legal action for libel and slander. In the judgement, the judge declared that van Reisen’s statements were warranted and that she had provided sufficient evidence of the facts.

In the Amsterdam court room, both the prosecution and the defence spent little time debating the facts of what was said. Instead, arguments centred on the relationship between the YPFDJ and the PFDJ, conditions in Eritrea, why so many Eritreans were fleeing their country and the existence of the Eritrean secret services in the Netherlands.

Van Reisen’s lawyer strove to show that the YPFDJ was the “eyes and ears” of the Eritrean regime. The court’s decision accepts this to be the reality. A common headline across Dutch newspapers was De lange arm van Eritrea, or the ‘long arm of Eritrea’. The arm not only refers to intelligence gathering, but also to intimidation. UN personnel, journalists and van Reisen herself have all been subjected to intimidation from members of the YPFDJ because they have drawn attention to the human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime and its supporters.

Interpreters are a crucial part of the Dutch immigration service, and yet their direct access to political refugees makes them a valuable asset for a repressive and secretive Eritrean state. Information given to interpreters during the asylum process can prove costly for relatives and friends back home. Such interpreters are also in a position to twist the meaning of what is being said. Regulations are in place to ensure that the integrity of interpreters is beyond doubt. They are screened to check that they and their family members are not connected to the Eritrean regime. Questions remain regarding how interpreters with clear connections to the Eritrean regime were employed in the first place.

Professor van Reisen has expressed her relief that the judge ruled in her favour, but also expressed concern and continued to advocate for those fleeing from and suffering in Eritrea. She told the Dutch press “I now know what it feels like to be Eritrean” having witnessed the legal and less than legal attempts to silence her. Overjoyed with the news of her judgement, van Reisen posted on Facebook: “victory to all justice seekers. Together we will continue to pursue the truth.”

The court’s decision sends a strong message – the Netherlands is an open democracy where evidence based criticism is legitimate. The rule of law, democracy and freedom of speech, values that the EU and the Netherlands stand for, have been defended. Values which Eritreans do not enjoy in their own country. [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 February 2016]

IDN is flagship of the International Press Syndicate.

Review overview
  • Berhan February 12, 2016

    Great news. Congratulations Prof. van Reisen and God bless you. This is indeed a victory for the oppressed Eritrean people and indeed for democracy.

  • Musa Ali February 12, 2016

    We all love u merjam Mariam asmera. Standing with the repressed makes u unique person. God bless u. U are blessed. To my fellow Eritreans, our misery will only end if we take the fight to the doorstep of the agame. We should focus on ways to eliminate iseyas immediately. That is the only way.

  • tslima enda Meresani February 12, 2016

    Hi Friends, could imagine how far south Sudan better-of than we Eritrean. We are engaged and suffered above 30,000 ex ‘tegadelti’ and honest Ethiopian for nothing in life long prisons in the worst life style, but to the contrary SS will bring African brothers and sisters to their nation. This is typical attitudinal difference between us and the rest of the world. We have to have training to respect human-being and we have to know no one lives in island. we are first or poiners of migration from the rest of the world, but we hate to live with other citizens in our country. this is typically stupidity. we are insulting people from our family just what we call ‘AGAME’ moreover, we are not better off than this indigenous people in all direction. ‘Agame” is nothing but the typical identify of Eritrean and namely ‘” tigray tigrigni”. moreover, we hate our identity that touched our mind by the fake and artificial emanates from colnies italian and britain.

    • Genet-orginal February 14, 2016

      tslima enda???
      You are not Eritrean. So, not sure, why you are talking nonsense by saying “We” If someone called you “agame” then go and ask her or him. Let me give you some info about Eritrean, We are generous, hard working, kind and fair. So what you were called “agame” Get over it already. Or stay back at tigray online. On tigray online, you are calling Eritrean worst than “agame” I don’t know why you are crying about being called “agame”, if you are called at all.

      • AHMED SALEH !!! February 14, 2016

        When he brought the word Agame to divert attention for negative feed
        back invitation I was going to respond but sometimes I get tired of
        their wicked intentions that promotes hatred at the expense of those
        poor people in our region .
        Pen names in disguise will not fool participants no more . By now
        this forum learned a lesson to identify uninvited intruders . If
        they think to succeed again for the damage done to ,
        tell them to back off KURDITAT . AJOKHI KUREIEDA GUAL HAGHER

  • Genet-orginal February 14, 2016

    A good news, Dear Prof, Well done! I knew you would be victorious, because you are not in Eritrea. This is a good news for all of us Eritrean justice seekers. Justice seekers in Europe, stand up and keep the YPFDJ, PFDJ’s dogs in check. Keep the pressure cooker on at all time.