A Belgian prison teacher has won a two year battle against a work ban on security grounds.
Luk Vervaet, who had taught in prisons for five years when he was summarily dismissed from his post in August 2009, was a regular commentator on prison issues for national newspapers and had collaborated with academic research projects into prison conditions, high suicides rates, and the growing use of solidarity confinement especially within the context of anti-terrorist regimes. For two years, Luk Vervaet and his lawyers battled through the Belgian courts for an explanation as to why he was banned from working in prisons for reasons of security and the basis of secret evidence provided by the Belgian intelligence services. In a case that has taken many twist and turns, lawyers argued that the director general of prisons, Hans Meurisse, had acted in an authoritarian and unconstitutional manner. The Constitutional Court concurs and in a final judgment made public on 22 June, revoked the ban, citing a 1965 royal decree which require authorities to give ‘serious reasons’ justifying the imposition of any administrative measure. The judgment emphasised that dissident opinions were not enough to justify denying a citizen his right to exercise his livelihood in a prison.
Professor Phil Scraton of Queen’s University, Belfast, one of many academics who supported Luk’s case from the beginning said that the judgment represented a resounding vindication of Luk’s work and commitment to justice. ‘It sounds a warning to those in the most secretive of state institutions that they cannot always succeed in silencing and sanctioning their critics and that academic freedom is not bounded by traditional academic institutions… .You have retained your great integrity and determination throughout … and you have enriched the lives of all with whom you had contact. Many others now owe much to you in bringing the authorities to account.’
Read an IRR news story: Belgium: arbitrary state power checked in prison teacher case
Read an IRR news story: Prison teacher victim of new McCarthyism in Belgium