Press Review Friday 4 June 2010

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One young man dominates the Dutch headlines again today. All of the papers report the arrest of Joran van der Sloot, apprehended by police in Chile, 3300 kilometres from the scene of a murder in which he is implicated.

Already notorious as the main suspect in the unsolved disappearance of American student Natalee Holloway on Aruba in 2005, he is now wanted in connection with the killing of Stephany Flores in a hotel room in the Peruvian capital Lima.

Needless to say he is not only making headlines in the Netherlands. De Telegraaf treats us to a selection from some of Peru’s front pages: “Gringo murderer!” “Serial killer”, “Psychopath”. The country’s La Republica newspaper opens with “Outrage, pain, turmoil, dismay and alarm. That is how Peru feels about the cruel murder of Stephany Flores…”

In its editorial, AD comments that “it is difficult not to jump to conclusions” and that “the whole world sees this as the proof that Joran is also guilty of the death and disappearance of Natalie Holloway”. The paper also notes: “It is too bizarre for words that, almost exactly five years after this unsolved mystery, his name appears in connection with the violent death of another young woman.”

Nevertheless, De Telegraaf reminds us that even if Joran is shown to be the killer of Stephany Flores “it will not bring a resolution to the Holloway case any closer”. A legal expert explains that Miss Flores’ murder “is likely to remain a criminal case under Peruvian law in which neither the Netherlands nor the United States has any role to play.”

That could be very bad news for Joran if he is convicted. Both AD and De Telegraaf talk to Jasper Bloemendal who has seen the conditions in Lima’s jails first hand and has set up a foundation to help the Dutch nationals imprisoned there on drugs offences. “It’s hell on Earth … Prisoners walk around armed with blades 30 centimetres long. Then there’s the overcrowding, the heat, the sickening stench… The prisoners are in charge. There’s murder, rape, extortion. The inmates live in mortal fear.”

Sworn enemies to govern Surinam Today’s papers give considerable coverage to political developments in Surinam, once a Dutch colony, where former military commander Desi Bouterse has entered into a coalition with ex rebel leader Ronnie Brunswijk. All of the papers characterise the unlikely allies as “arch rivals” or “sworn enemies” but there they are, all smiles, toasting each other’s health and locked in a congratulatory embrace.

AD describes how Ronnie Brunswijk’s Jungle Commando “waged war on the military regime led by Mr Bouterse, who had seized power in a coup along with 15 other sergeants”. Now, however, it would appear that pragmatism rules the day: to quote Desi Bouterse: “We may not love each other, but we should be able to work together.”

De Volkskrant focuses on another aspect of Desi Bouterse’s election victory. The newly elected Surinam president has been convicted in absentia by a Dutch court of drugs trafficking but the paper notes “as president, Bouterse enjoys full diplomatic immunity. The Hague can no longer ask other countries to expedite him. For the coming five years he can travel abroad with impunity.”

The situation is not cut and dried. Some legal experts believe it would be possible to arrest the leader on the basis of a UN anti-drugs treaty, but the Dutch ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs say they will respect the unwritten law of immunity for heads of state and government leaders. The paper points out that Surinam will soon be the only country in the world to have a convicted drugs trafficker as president. Not only that but coalition partner Ronnie Brunswijk also has a six-year sentence for drug trafficking hanging over his head.

The aftermath of the Gaza aid convoy killings Several of today’s papers were at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport for the return of the two Dutch nationals who had been aboard the aid convoy to Gaza that was attacked by Israeli troops, with fatal consequences. Anne de Jong and Amin Abou Rashed were held in an Israeli jail after the incident. “I feel safe again now,” says Anne in de Volkskrant. “It was awful in prison … We were put under pressure to sign papers and to confess to things that we absolutely did not do.” Amin also says he was poorly treated in jail and was not allowed access to legal counsel or Dutch embassy staff. Despite their ordeal, both vow they are determined to go back and take part in another aid mission.

Trouw gives an emotional account of how “the Turkish activists aboard the Gaza aid convoy buried their dead in Istanbul”. The paper talks to one of the activists, British woman Laura Stewart. She tells the paper: “When I converted to Islam 11 years ago I could never have imagined that I would be at the centre of the battle between the Muslims and Israel.” She describes how a fellow activist died in her arms aboard the ship. “I did my best but I could not stop the bleeding ... I didn’t even know his name.” In answer to the question whether he would dare undertake such a voyage again, young Turkish activist Ekrem Es replies: “Of course. Our dead have become martyrs. Is there any better fate in this world?”

Dutch elections: the battle for the spotlight With no major developments on the Dutch election campaign trail over the last 24 hours, the papers appear to be in reflective mood. De Telegraaf features a full-page interview with Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders, while de Volkskrant devotes two pages to its encounter with beleaguered Christian Democrat leader Jan Peter Balkenende. The eight brand new parties fielding candidates on 9 June can only dream of attracting such extensive media coverage.

Today’s Trouw takes a look at their plight. It talks to political historian Charlotte Brand who advises the newcomers to “be smart and seek out a niche for themselves”. The paper observes that only two of the 147 new parties that emerged over a 20-year period up to 2006 managed to win one or more seats in parliament and even the ones who did succeed seldom stayed the course, falling victim to internal wrangling and poor organisation. reveals that there are now ten PR officers for every journalist in the Netherlands and warns that "journalists are not sufficiently aware of the strategies they are party to". The paper describes how "journalists are used for political ends" as "press events are manufactured to give an issue a sense of urgency".

It bases its article on the work of researchers at the University of Amsterdam, who advise journalists to counter these "shifting boundaries" by making people aware of the process behind producing an article or TV programme. "Describe how an article was put together and the vested interests at stake. Tell your viewers which questions you were not allowed to ask."

Disturbing facts emerge in child sex abuse case De Volkskrant reports on the trial of swimming instructor Benno L. who is charged with sexually abusing 58 young girls – many of whom were mentally disabled – over a number of years. Alarmingly it says: “The signs are growing stronger that the abuse could have been stopped … the police received a number of reports since 1996 but declined to intervene.”

One such report came from a man who discovered a large number of suggestive photos of children on the swimming instructor’s computer when he brought it in to be repaired in 2005. Rumours of abuse surrounded the suspect for years before that, yet the paper says parents who brought their children for swimming lessons received no warnings to this effect.

A Labour MP is now calling for a legal obligation to report suspected abuse to the authorities. But given the amount of information that did reach the police in this case, you have to wonder how much of a solution that would be.  

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