Bellingcat Statement on Injunctive Decision of Amsterdam District Court
March 11, 2021
Bellingcat notes that the Amsterdam District Court has issued an injunctive decision against the St. Petersburg-based news agency RIA FAN, which failed to appear for the court hearing. The decision deems five articles published by RIA FAN in July and August 2020 incorrect and unlawful.
The articles falsely claimed Bellingcat investigator Pieter van Huis and other Bellingcat journalists had sent threatening messages to RIA FAN employees as well as offering to bribe them. Based on the evidence put forward by Bellingcat, the court finds that these allegations are false, not supported by facts and unlawful.
The court has ordered RIA FAN to pay Bellingcat’s legal costs as well as take down the offending articles. RIA FAN must also publish a prominent correction on its website for the duration of six months. In the event that RIA FAN does not comply with the court’s orders, the company will be subject to a daily penalty of EUR 25,000 for each day of non- compliance up to a maximum of EUR 500,000.
The RIA FAN publications were widely shared on social media and reproduced on other websites affiliated with the Patriot Media Group. The chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Patriot Media Group – of which RIA FAN is a founding member – is Yevgeniy Prigozhin.
We look forward to the record being swiftly corrected and the offending articles being removed.
Update: August 13, 2021
Bellingcat notes that following opposition proceedings by RIA FAN regarding the verdict of the Amsterdam District Court of March 9, 2021, the court has fully upheld its original verdict which concluded that the RIA FAN publications are libellous and unlawful (paragraph 4.5). With its new verdict of June 29, 2021, the court has confirmed its earlier verdict which obliges RIA FAN to remove the libellous articles cited in the original verdict, plus an additional Arabic-language version of one of the articles that was newly added to the case file since the initial verdict was published. Furthermore, RIA FAN still has to publish the following statement on its website:
“On 3 July, 4 July, 14 August and 20 August 2020, we wrote on this website that Bellingcat and Bellingcat’s journalist Pieter van Huis tried to bribe employees of our organisation, and that our employees were threatened by them. The judge in preliminary relief proceedings of the District Court of Amsterdam ruled on 9 March 2021 that these accusations were not supported by facts and therefore unlawful. We should not have published these articles.
-The editors of FAN.“
At the time of publication, RIA FAN has not complied with this obligation.
The court has rejected RIA FAN’s claims and concluded that RIA FAN could not justify its accusations in relation to Bellingcat and Van Huis. The only thing RIA FAN achieved with the opposition is that the penalties on the execution of the measures ordered by the court have been withdrawn (paragraph 4.10), with the explanation that “given the parties’ position, there is no legally enforceable interest in imposing periodic penalty payments” for non-compliance. Since it is not possible for the Dutch authorities to execute penalties in Russia, the court felt that there was no purpose in imposing such penalties. Nevertheless, the court upheld that RIA FAN still has to pay Bellingcat € 1.408,81 in legal costs.
Bellingcat further notes that RIA FAN has so far only removed the Arabic-language version of one of the libellous articles, claiming on their website that this article “slightly violated European legislation”. The Russian-language version of this same article remains accessible online. In the same statement, RIA FAN falsely reported that the court has decided to overturn the earlier verdict that the other libelous articles should also be removed.
Paragraphs 4.5 and 5.2 of the verdict of June 29 clearly state that the only decision in favour of RIA FAN is withdrawing the aforementioned penalties. The court orders to remove the unlawful articles remain in full force.