Cowering in the dark

Another curious bit of infringement on the right to expression in the Netherlands. A commenter on the Dutch 'shock blog' Geenstijl was banned. After requests for explanation by the commenter, Geenstijl today published the reasons behind the ban (NL).

Back in October the head of the NCTb, national coordinator anti-terrorism Tjibbe Joustra (who was featured here only two days ago with a bit of hamfisted political attention whoring) backed the conclusions of a report stating that authorities should listen more carefully to the demands of extreme Muslims. Geenstijl reported it here (NL), we did a piece on it here.

In response the commenter in question stated:
High treason merits the death penalty: Tjibbe Joustra must be brought before a firing squad.
Strongly worded and a bit tasteless to be sure. Geenstijl has an explicit and well published guide on commenting. The comment does seem to skirt the edges of the acceptable (within the framework of the guide). And thus the ban seems merited. Arguably. Then again, it is not my place to critique the decisions made by the Geenstijl staff. As they point out: moderating comments is the site owners priviledge. Anyone feeling infringed is welcome to start his or her own blog.

But here is where the story becomes curious: Evidently a complaint was filed by the NCTb with the police unit 'threatened politicians'. Last week the prosecutor summoned the records of the IP number of the commenter in question, Geenstijl reports. The blogs lawyers did look into ignoring the summons, but that would in all likelihood have resulted in a 'computer search'. As of last year the law is that unwillingness to cooperate with authorities may result in confiscation of servers effectively halting the blog. The costs of finding the commenter (manpower and resources) are also for the blog. Hence, Geenstijl saw no alternative but to cooperate.

In a further reaction Geenstijl asks the Attorney General 'what the hell are we doing'? Everybody knows this case is going nowhere. There is a less then 1% probability even a fine will be issued out of this.

So... What are we to make of this? At first sight this is yet another blow to freedom of expression. However, Joustra c.s. will have a difficult time making this complaint stick. First of all, the 'threat' wasn't. Yes, it was tasteless and maybe even a little intimidating. But the commenter did NOT call for somebody, somewhere to finish off Joustra. I doubt that any judge will go so far as defining down the concept of 'threat' to fit the comment in question within it. It would be akin to accepting 'If you don't quit smoking you'll die of cancer' as a legitimate death threat punishable by law.

Joustra is a career civil servant with aspirations to political power. It is what made him impossible to maintain as Director General of the department of Agriculture. Joustra is also a vain little man. In another (public) job, Joustra was terminated after it emerged that he wanted to remodel his office to the tune of 3,500,000 euros of tax payers money. Even as the organisation he headed at the time was cutting jobs in an 'efficiency operation'. And he is in charge of a failing agency. Much of that failure can be ascribed directly to Joustra himself (which is why he will be replaced in the near future). In stead of concentrating on fighting terrorism and extremism within Dutch islamic circles, he sought to ingratiate himself with the powers that be by utilizing the full might of the NCTb (such as it is) to fight Geert Wilders releasing Fitna.

There are an ever growing number of real politicians (as opposed to self-aggrandizing civil servants) who have to deal with real threats. That Joustra sees fit to use an unfortunately necessary agency to salve his hurt pride is beyond contempt and tells a lot about the measure of the man.

The complaint will not come to anything, but in the mean time the life of an ordinary citizen speaking his mind will have been turned up-side-down. He will have to bare the costs of representation himself and thus will be out of a considerable amount of money. Money he (and his family) undoubtedly could use a lot better for other things (mortgage, clothing for the kids, the hollidays). That is what makes this episode so despicable. It is 'lawfare' on the little guy: Filing complaints and suing, just to harass one ordinary man and scare off anyone else with a mind to criticize Joustra. It is a gross abuse of office and Joustra should be held accountable. But, this being the Netherlands, he probably won't be...

Still, what would make a little man like Joustra lash out at the mention of 'treason'? Did he see in print/bits the thing he fears most in the silent whisky hours of the day? Is he secretly worrying about a reckoning to come? Having been in his current position for a number of years now, he may well have a good feel for what is simmering just below the surface of Dutch society. And hence he may know something we are still to wake up to. Joustra's unlikely overreaction to the 'threat' may well be an indication that does not think the probability of being accused of treason at some point in the future is zero. We may have here the first indication that our elites are getting scared of those they seek to rule.

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