The State of the Netherlands has reached a settlement with Ans Boersma with regard to the damage caused by information requests to the Turkish authorities in 2018 and 2019. These requests led to her deportation from Turkey on 17 January 2019 and to the imposing of a re-entry ban for a period of six years. In Turkey, Boersma had worked as a freelance journalist for Dutch media outlets such as Het Financieele Dagblad, BNR and Trouw. Although some media outlets have already reported on a settlement between Boersma and the State, no definitive agreement had been reached yet. That is the case now.
Boersma held the State liable in 2019 when it became apparent that she had been deported on the basis of an information request by the Dutch authorities, who wanted to hear her as a witness in criminal investigations. The information request that was sent on 28 September 2018, stated that Boersma had been (or still was – the message could be understood either way) in a relationship with a person holding a high position within the terrorist organization Jabhat Al Nusra. As a result, she was falsely and unnecessarily associated with Jabhat Al Nusra and was classified as a 'danger to the state' by the Turkish authorities. The Dutch Justice Department repeated its information request twice in January 2019.
On 16 January 2019, Boersma was arrested by the Turkish authorities and was deported a day later. At that time, she was unaware of the reason for her deportation. Documents that were published following a request under the Dutch Government Information (Public Access) Act (in Dutch: Wet openbaarheid van bestuur; or 'WOB') revealed that the Dutch State had already known that its request for information was the reason for her deportation before she was deported, but that information was not disclosed to Boersma. Consequently, she was under the impression that the deportation was connected to her work as a journalist, and went public presenting it as such.
In her notification of liability, Boersma pointed out among other things, the vulnerable position of journalists in Turkey. This is one of the reasons why the Dutch State should never have sent information requests of this kind to the Turkish authorities. Boersma has strong indications that between the first request for information and her deportation, she was both followed and wire-tapped by the Turkish authorities thereby endangering her journalistic sources. Above all, the information request was completely unnecessary. During her time as a correspondent in Turkey, Boersma visited the Netherlands on average three times a year. The Dutch authorities had every opportunity to approach her during one of these visits. She had even been in the Netherlands just prior to her deportation, without having been approached by the Dutch authorities.
In response to this case, the Netherlands Association of Journalists (in Dutch: Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten, or 'NVJ') entered into discussions with the Public Prosecutor's Office about requests for information about journalists in countries with a vulnerable reputation in terms of freedom of the press and human rights in general. Those discussions have led to amendments to the internal regulations of the Public Prosecutor's Office.
Due to a confidentiality clause, no statements will be made about the amount in damages that Boersma will receive.
Boersma was assisted in this case by lawyer Tom de Boer. His reaction to the settlement:
"My client is satisfied with the settlement. Hopefully, this will help her to end this strenuous period as best as possible. As a result of the information sharing, she lost her social and professional life in Turkey overnight. Moreover, the case has left a negative mark on her life. This can be attributed to the Justice Department, which should never have sent such a request under these circumstances. It put her in danger, and it was not necessary at all. That is why it is good that this case has led to a change in the policy of the Public Prosecution Service. Hopefully, this will prevent similar situations in the future".
For this case, Boersma received financial support from the Media Legal Defence Initiative.