An Oxford University theology professor and former pastor who downloaded 28,000 child abuse images and videos has been sentenced to a year in prison and placed on the sex offender register in France.
Jan Joosten, 61, who holds the prestigious regius professorship of Hebrew at Oxford, was suspended by the university’s Faculty of Oriental Studies and Christ Church college on Monday night. He is considered one of the most distinguished biblical scholars of his generation.
The academic, who lives in the Bas-Rhin region of France, was sentenced by a court in the city of Saverne last week over possession of about 27,000 images and 1,000 videos after he admitted the facts of the case, Agence France-Presse reported.
Prosecutors said the material downloaded by Joosten, who spent six years as a pastor in his native Belgium, included depictions of child rape.
The images, downloaded over a six-year period, were discovered through a lengthy police investigation by cybercrime specialists in Strasbourg. Joosten, a father of four, accepted the facts of the case and told the court he was relieved to be arrested, describing his addiction as “a secret garden, in contradiction with myself”.
Joosten was not immediately committed to prison. His sentence would be supervised, and may be amended, by an independent judge, AFP said. The court also ordered a three-year programme of treatment and barred him from any activity bringing him into contact with minors.
The defence had said that his family were aware of his offences and argued he should not be imprisoned because he was a first time offender, presented little risk of reoffending, and had sought psychiatric help voluntarily. A judicial source told AFP that Joosten was yet to decide whether to appeal on Friday.
Joosten, who studied in Belgium, the US and Israel, taught at the University of Strasbourg for 20 years before joining Oxford in 2014. He still holds a role at Strasbourg and was until recently editor-in-chief of Vetus Testamentum, a leading journal of Old Testament studies.
Christ Church college sent students a statement saying that it is “fully committed to safeguarding and has robust policies and processes in place.” It added: “Our thoughts are with anyone affected by this news.”
A statement issued by Oxford University said: “We can confirm that, following the conviction in France of Professor Jan Joosten for possession of images of child pornography, he has been suspended by the Faculty of Oriental Studies and Christ Church pending further action.
“We have informed any staff and students who would have had contact with him and have provided them with the contacts of the University’s welfare and support services in case that any of them require additional support.”