Proposed by Didier Reynders, Belgium’s minister for foreign affairs and defence, the bill was hardly noticed when it was approved by the cabinet in early May. As it stands, it makes no exceptions although not everyone would face the same penalty. Under article 22 of the bill, journalists could be fined up to 5,000 euros while whistleblowers would face a possible five-year jail term.
“In its current form, this bill could criminalize investigative journalism and threaten the Belgian public’s right to information,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk. “The government must restore a balance between press freedom and the protection of classified information or else Belgium’s ranking in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index could be affected.”
In an opinion issued in late June, Belgium’s Council of State warned that the bill’s broad wording could violate jurisprudence on the right to information stemming from the European Convention on Human Rights.
This view is shared by the General Association of Belgian Professional Journalists (AGJPB-AVBB), which wrote to Reynders on 14 August voicing concern about the bill’s impact on freedom of expression.
The government has said the bill would be amended before being resubmitted to the cabinet and parliament.
Belgium is ranked ninth out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.