On Saturday, while arriving on Schiphol, we, Michel Spekkers and Stefan Beck were held by Dutch police and interrogated. During the interrogation, not only material of the MH17 was taken from us, also our laptops, telephones, SD-cards and camera’s. We lost all material shot in Donbass, including material recorded with anonymous sources. In this article we present an overview what happened, both before and after that day.
For Michel Spekkers’ account please visit: http://michelspekkers.nl/mh17-mijn-verhaal/
Collecting the material from MH17
Our stay in Donbass mostly focussed on showing how people in the region experienced the conflict, their attitude towards Ukraine, Russia, Donbass. It was only on the last day of our stay that Michel Spekkers went to the MH17 crash-site together with local journalists. What he found there was shocking; it seemed as if the whole region was never thoroughly searched as pieces of the plane could still be found everywhere.
Moreover, not only was the material found in fields, where it might have been incidently overlooked by previous searches, it was also found still lying around in a shed formerly used for wreckage storage. However, this material was never collected. More so, even some material which might very well be human was abandoned by previous investigations.
Above: Shed where part of the MH17 material was discovered.
The tragic reality seems to be that the pieces lying in the area would be left there to weather away. Hence, any evidence about what happened to flight MH17 still present in the area would never be collected. Hence, Michel Spekkers has decided to film the location of all material, record them on GPS and some of it he has taken back to The Netherlands for investigation, something that, unfortunately, would never have happened without doing so.
Initial reactions from the Dutch Prosecuting service in public channels
The Dutch Prosecuting Service (OM), a party responsible for the investigation into the MH17, initial responded with the following comment in Omroep Brabant (A Dutch local news channel):
“Dat daar nu nog steeds van alles gevonden wordt, is logisch”, aldus een woordvoerder van het Landelijk Parket van het Openbaar Ministerie. “Het toestel kwam in een groot gebied terecht, waar het nu nog steeds onrustig en onveilig is. Dat maakt het bergen erg lastig.”
(From: http://www.omroepbrabant.nl/?news/2598251113/Nabestaanden+boos+op+journalist+die+vuilniszak+met+MH17-resten+claimt+Niet+respectvol.aspx )
“That there are still pieces being found over there, is logical.” Says a prokesperson of the Dutch Prosecuting Service. “The plane came down over a large area, where is is still unquiet and unsafe. This complicates retrieving the wreckage.”
We deem this statement as incorrect. First of all, during our stay in Donbass, we experienced the whole situation as rather quiet. Indeed, it might have been different in the past and there is still fighting going on near the front, but in cities there is very little going on. Locals told is that it has been a year since Donetsk itself was shelled and one should know that the MH17 crash-site is even father away from the front than Donetsk is. Also, there were no hostilities at all while Spekkers visited the crash-site.
The second statement, that pieces came down over a large area and there, for almost impossible to collect them all, does indeed make sense. However, pieces were also found in sheds, where the material was already collected and never retrieved. Amongst them were possible human remains.
Initial contact with authorities
It was never made a secret that material of the MH17 was taken with us. Indeed, it was even posted on twitter. Authorities therefore contacted Michel Spekkers and asked him to hand it over in either the Dutch embassy in Moscow or at Schiphol Airport. During the contact the police made clear they needed the material for investigation. More so, they claimed that the handover would be voluntarily. Being such, there should also be a possibility to refuse. We have told authorities that we agreed on a rendezvous.
Arriving in Schiphol and Interogation.
Because of a disagreement about carrying a possible human remain, it was decided that Beck would leave the plane without Spekkers. Noticing Michel might be arrested Beck started filming the gate. However Beck never has seen Spekkers come out of the gate.
At the baggage retrieval, Beck noticed that the rucksack of Spekkers was incorrectly checked-in under his name by ground staff in Moscow. This is despite that his own suitecase, which was too heavy, was paid by him and we have the receipt to prove. Judging that his own luggage was not check in under his own name, he took out Michel his rucksack. A call by Michel, who was waiting under the supervision of the authorities, urged Beck to hand it over to Michel. But, before this could be done Beck was already stopped by police and brought to the interrogation room.
Receipt for paying for excess weight of Beck’s suitecase. Payment is made by Stefan Beck
The people interrogating Beck identified themselves as police. Eventhough, they showed a police card which supposedly showed their family names and initials, the interrogator was very much worried that his face might have been caught on camera. Also, the name used by the interrogator to introduce himself, Bert, did not correspond with the initials on the police pass. The interrogator also claimed to be married while not wearing a wedding-ring.
Both Spekkers and Beck were asked to unpack their bags and show all content they were carrying with them. During the conversation it was incorrectly said to Beck that Spekkers has agreed to voluntarily hand over the material. Beck knew, that, despite Spekkers was not against this, he also had not yet agreed on this.
Why did authorities took material from us?
During the interrogation, it was claimed that this material was needed for the MH17 investigation. Not before arriving was there ever any question about handing this material over. Nor was it ever asked to hand the video or photo material voluntarily. It was taken from Beck without any question whatsoever.
List of confiscated items of Stefan Beck
Of all material collected (see the above list) even Stefan Beck his Nokia 2630 was taken from him. Because, as was claimed, it might contain picture or recordings of the conversation or images of the crashsite.
Despite publicly announcing that MH17 material was taken with us, and that we were detained even before leaving customs, some media still claim that we were smuggling the material.
We again want to stress that we fear for the safety of the people who we interviewed. The vast majority of our material was not about MH17, but about how people toughed about the area. Amongst the interviews, were people that did not want to have their faces shown and that might be identified via our material. By voice, photo’s or recordings.
The perception that these people are at risk, is generally not shared in the west. Therefore we would like to draw attention to the following. The photographer which travelled with Spekkers to the MH17 site, Vladislav Zelenyj, himself is a good example of this: because of his work in Donbass, he has been labelled a terrorist and pictures of him (including his passport!) are displayed at a website that categorized Journalist which are perceived as pro-DNR. The website can be found here: https://myrotvorets.center/criminal/zelenyj-vladislav-olegovich/
We are very much afraid that a similar fate await some of the people which we interviewed.
Screenshot of Mirotvorets’ page about Vladislav Zelenyj, a photo journalist traveling with Spekkers to the MH17 crash-site.