2 suspects face court over shooting of Dutch journalist

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Two men arrested over the shooting of Dutch crime reporter Peter R. de Vries, who is fighting for his life in an Amsterdam hospital, will appear in court later this week, police said Wednesday.

De Vries, a star reporter who had received multiple threats for his work covering the criminal underworld, was shot five times, including once in the head, after leaving broadcaster RTL’s Amsterdam studio following a TV appearance on Tuesday evening, according to local media reports.

The shooting prompted shock and condemnation across Europe. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the attack “shocking and incomprehensible.” He said during a press conference that the attempted assassination “was an attack on a courageous journalist and also an attack on the free press that is so critical to our democracy.”

European Council President Charles Michel declared: “This is a crime against journalism and an attack on our values of democracy and rule of law. We will relentlessly continue to defend the freedom of the press.”

Police said Wednesday that a 35-year-old Pole and 21-year-old from Rotterdam, arrested in a car on the A4 motorway near Leidschendam the night before, were suspected of direct involvement in the shooting and would be arraigned on Friday. A third person, who had been arrested in Amsterdam, was no longer a suspect.

Police said they also searched properties in multiple locations overnight, seizing ammunition and data storage devices.

Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema said Tuesday evening that de Vries was “seriously wounded and is fighting for his life.”

She described him as a “national hero” who stood up for people in need and kept investigators on their toes. The shooting was a “brutal, cowardly attack,” she said.

High-profile reporter

De Vries is one of the Netherlands’ most high-profile journalists and often appears on TV. He made his name in the early 1980s writing about Amsterdam’s underworld and the kidnapping of beer magnate Freddy Heineken. In 2013, Heineken’s kidnapper, Willem Holleeder, was convicted of making threats against de Vries.

The 64-year-old journalist reached a new level of fame with his own TV program, which covered many high-profile criminal cases and aired from 1995 and 2012.

De Vries gained international attention in 2008 by recording an apparent confession of a man who, in a car full of hidden cameras, confessed to having a role in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, an American teenager who disappeared on the Caribbean island of Aruba in 2005.

The show was watched by 7 million viewers in the Netherlands — making it one of the most popular non-sports programs in Dutch television history — and won de Vries an Emmy.

His different roles in criminal cases — as a journalist, commentator, as well as spokesperson for victims’ families — has earned him regular criticism.

Most recently, de Vries was acting as an adviser to a man known publicly only as Nabil B. — a key prosecution witness in a trial involving alleged drug kingpin Ridouan Taghi. De Vries and Nabil B.’s attorneys were believed to be on a criminal underworld hit list because of their participation in the trial, according to the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism.

A previous lawyer for Nabil B., Derk Wiersum, was gunned down in front of his Amsterdam home in 2019, sending shockwaves through the country. A year earlier, Nabil B.’s brother Reduan was also killed.

Yet despite the potential threats to his life, de Vries had refused security protection, according to Dutch media.

Kees van der Spek, a journalist and close friend of de Vries, recalled a recent conversation with de Vries for a podcast in which his fearlessness shone through.

“The last time he was afraid was when he had to go home [as a child] with a bad school report,” he said. “That characterized him. Rather die upright than live on my knees, that was his motto,” van der Spek said.

In a short statement on behalf of de Vries’ family, his son, Royce De Vries, said on Twitter: “Yesterday, our worst nightmare became reality. We as a family surround Peter with love and hope during this difficult phase.” He added that much is still uncertain and thanked people for their messages of support.

Multiple European journalists have been the targets of violent — and sometimes deadly — attacks in recent years.

In April this year, a veteran Greek crime reporter, George Karaivaz, was shot and killed near his home in Athens by a gunman who opened fire from a motorcycle.

In 2018, Slovakian investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his finacée Martina Kušnírová were shot dead at their home. Last month, Slovakia’s Supreme Court overturned the acquittal of a businessman accused of masterminding the murders.

In 2017, Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who had investigated crime and corruption in the highest echelons of government and society, was killed by a car bomb.

Tom Gibson, the European Union representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the Dutch authorities should determine whether de Vries was targeted for his work “and ensure that the attacker and the masterminds of the attack face justice.”

He added: “Journalists in the EU must be able to investigate crime and corruption without fearing for their safety.”

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