Advocate-General Simon Minks discusses the 'Context' terrorism trial
Advocate-General Simon Minks was involved as a public prosecutor in the Context proceedings. In this interview he shares some insights with the Centre for Professional Learning, of which he is a Fellow.
At the end of March the Supreme Court ruled that the convictions in the Context trial should be upheld. This is the largest terrorism criminal proceedings in the Netherlands since the Hofstad group. Advocate-General Simon Minks was involved in the proceedings as public prosecutor. As Fellow at the Centre for Professional Learning he contributes to educational programmes for professionals on the subjects of terrorism, justice and security. During his courses he reflects on, among other things, his experiences during the Context trial. In this mini interview he shares some insights.
A relatively large number of people from the The Hague Region travelled to Syria between 2013-2015. In the Context case the Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that it had been proven that a certain local network was in fact a terrorist and criminal organisation. The Court decided that this organization was, among other things, responsible for the recruitment of people leaving for Syria and incitement to participating in armed combat. As well as being involved in the financing of terrorism and furthering murder and manslaughter committed by Jihadist fighters in Syria.
Four of the suspects disagreed with the verdict and lodged an appeal in cassation with the Supreme Court. Three of these suspects had not travelled to Syria and claimed that the statements they made, mostly online, were not incitements to a punishable offence. They also claimed that their conviction for these statements was an unjustified restriction on their freedom of religion and their freedom of speech. These cassation applications proved unsuccessful in the recent verdict of the Supreme Court; making the verdicts definitive.
The lessons learned during the Context case do not only apply to the Public Prosecution Service. Context was a big case that included a lot of ground-breaking work and the formation of new collaborations. Its priority was not the location of people but the gathering of information. This allowed for more flexibility in light of foreign fighters travelling abroad that was an issue at the time, such as revoking passports, freezing bank accounts, and offering suitable assistance to families. It is not for nothing that the investigation won the Gonsalves Price in 2015: The National Innovation Price for Law Enforcement.
We asked Minks to answer a few questions about the Context case.
What made the Context trial special for you?
It was an honour to have been allowed to work on this case together with my colleagues Banning, Jansens and Haak of the Public Prosecution Service. It was one of the largest terrorism investigations that ever took place in the Netherlands. We tried to find out who was behind the exodus of large numbers of youngsters from The Hague and surrounding areas to Syria and Iraq with the intention to participate in the fighting. We also tried to find out who exactly these young people were. A special case because of so many different aspects: several of these youngsters were killed; the dismay of the families faced with the departure of their son or daughter; but obviously also because of the legal challenges. The way the suspects communicated with each other, figuring out the legal options and possibilities during our investigations on the internet, the collaboration with different partners from the field of counter terrorism. And last but not least: the enormous social pressure that comes with cases such as this.
Has the Context case changed the way the Public Prosecution Services, the police and other parties operate?
A large number of partners are involved in the approach to combat terrorism; which becomes clear when you look at the participants of the Dutch course leergang Terrorisme, Recht en Veiligheid. Partners who take some getting used to and with whom collaboration is not always a given. It was wonderful to see how much was invested in those collaborations and the results that were achieved because of it, not only during this investigation but also in other cases. Brainstorming together, for instance during the courses of the Centre for Professional Learning, contributes to more understanding of each other's position and has worked to further professionalisation.
Which lesson would you like to highlight?
There are many lessons to be learned. The partner collaboration in the field of counter terrorism is the most important one, as far as I'm concerned: invest in the relationship. It is not necessary to meet up for coffee every day, but what I have noticed is that it helps to do so occasionally. It makes it easier to level with each other. Equally important is that all partners should continue to invest in knowledge. Cutting cost there is not an option if you want to take your task in society seriously and want to remain up-to-date with ongoing developments. It is important to avoid having to start from scratch, as we had to do with the first foreign fighter cases, in case we have to start prosecuting extreme right or extreme left activists later on.
Original Dutch Text: Walle Bos
Image: OSCE, Simon Minks speaks at an OSCE organised seminar on strengthening rule of law -compliant criminal justice responses to terrorism, Ashgabat, 24 July 2019.
The Centre for Professional Learning (CPL) offers courses for higher educated professionals: starters, experienced professionals, and managers. More information our security and safety themed programmes in Dutch.