Visit to terrorist-controlled zones to be a punishable offence

Unauthorised stays in territories that are in the hands of terrorist organisations may become a criminal offence, punishable with a maximum prison sentence of one year, under a new bill submitted today to the Lower House of Parliament by Minister Grapperhaus of Justice and Security. The provision, which comes out of the government's coalition agreement, targets the threat to Dutch national security from individuals who return to the Netherlands from conflict zones controlled by terrorist organisations.

Though recent judicial rulings have set a precedent for the conviction of foreign combatants for involvement in terrorist organisations or preparation to commit a terrorist offence based on what is known about the situations in Syria and Iraq, this does not lessen the imperative for the new legislation. In years to come, terrorist centres could emerge in elsewhere in the world, and experiences in Syria and Iraq have moreover demonstrated that it takes time to determine precisely what is happening on the ground and how Dutch citizens there are involved. Under the existing legislation the Public Prosecution Service must already have a clear picture of all facts and circumstances in order to prosecute for involvement in terrorist crimes. The proposed criminalisation of any stay in a prohibited territory would thus provide for situations where such intelligence is still lacking.
 
The few individuals who do have legitimate reasons for visiting a particular territory, such as humanitarian aid workers and journalists reporting, will be able to apply for authorisation to visit for the purposes of their work. For the provision to be applied, the government must explicitly designate prohibited territories as such by separate order in council.