Cycling amongst the military in Brussels

©Barry Sandland/TIMB - Cyclists riding around the military in Brussels.

©Barry Sandland/TIMB – Despite the heavy police and military presence in Brussels, there were plenty of people on the streets, at cafés – until the lousy weather came.

If you have not been watching the news recently, Brussels has been in a raised security level after a person connected to the terrorist attacks in Paris was thought to be in Brussels. Molenbeek, specifically. Now, This Is My Bike is based in Molenbeek and I spent the past few days cycling around my city, getting a few photos for the site. This was taken on Monday, Day Two of the military presence and when the worldwide media was reporting the ghost city that was once Brussels.

There has been some very sensationalist work in print this week. One was worthy as a candidate for the ‘worse line in a novel’ award. Actually, there were loads of us on the streets, riding about, taking photos, stopping in cafés for coffee or wine, shopping, living our lives. Tourists were everywhere and locals were taking selfies with armoured vehicles, or of the military in the scene. The city opened most of its doors again today. People are everywhere now. They can shop, go to work and the like. The threat is very much a yesterday issue.
There have been thousands of photos taken by your everyday, garden variety people looking for some sort of souvenir of the extraordinary circumstances.
I think it is immensely important that authorities be photographed in the course of their actions. Especially in these conditions. In the past, I have been stopped by police who have told me I cannot photograph demonstrations, manifestations, public protests – let along any image with a police officer in the frame,no matter how distant. Of course, I can. Article 10 of the European Convention gives permission. The law is clear that the image cannot specifically identify the officer – they have that right to privacy, and that seems perfectly reasonable to me. .. That proviso would not be there when the intent is to document misconduct of a specific person.
It should also be noted, the police in Belgium are not always up to speed with this permission. There are many documented instances of cameras and photo cards being seized by authorities without due cause. Taking images of the police can be very problematic – and reinforces why it is important that the liberty be exercised and protected. I have had my run in with police trying to intimidate me when I was photographing a legal demonstration in the city.
Finally, the police and military have both been accepting of the amateur photography sessions recently. They wear scarves and berets to protect their identity. I have only seen one soldier ask for press credentials. I was asked this morning, but I am not a journalist any more. I explained I have the right to take photos as long as I am not identifying the individual. It was a decent chat – and I understand there may be some irritation at having been the subject of dozens of photos over the past few days.

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