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Filming police is our right, say reporters as trial of officers begins

ZIN TV journalist Thomas Michel, pictured during, a protest to support the right to film police action, in Brussels, Thursday 17 December 2020. Mobilization for the freedom to inform and the right to film the police action as part of the end of the trial of the two police officers who erased the images of a film crew in October 2015. (BELGA PHOTO OPHELIE DELAROUZEE)
10:05 18/12/2020

Dozens of people gathered in Brussels' Place Albertine on Thursday to defend the right to film police. The protests coincided with the start of the trial of two Brussels police officers accused of illegally removing video data from journalists from independent web broadcaster Zin TV during a demonstration against free trade treaties in October 2015 in the European quarter.

"Filming the police is a right," the protesters wrote on sheets of paper. Speeches and testimonies were given.

The incident at the heart of the trial, currently being held in the Brussels Criminal Court, centres on the arrest of reporters Thomas Michel and Maxime Lehoux while filming police action against protesters, despite the fact that they had identified themselves as belonging to Zin TV. It was after their release from custody, when they were returning to film the release of the demonstrators, that police seized their equipment and deleted all the images filmed on the day.

"This is still an atypical case because there has been capture and destruction of the images, but it is a symptomatic case when it comes to journalists," Olivia Venet, president of the League for Human Rights (LDH) told the rally. "In practice, citizens who film will quickly be stopped by the police, who come to tell them that they have no right to film. Legally, however, this right to film is indisputable. It must therefore be integrated into their training and accepted by the police so that it can be exercised freely."

Venet believes that this is especially true for journalists because, according to her, "it is fundamental that journalists can carry out their assignments, otherwise it is an erosion of democracy".

Police on the ground often use the argument that their actions are being disturbed to move journalists a substantial distance away from the scene. "When you're filming social struggles and you don't want to stay behind the police cordon, but you want to be with the protesters, it's always very complicated to keep working," said Thomas Michel, one of the Zin TV reporters arrested in 2015.

Written by Nick Amies