This week, the lawyer who is working on the cases of myself and the nine other women who were arrested in January this year for staging a protest against Geert Wilders got in touch with some news. He let us know that the the public prosecutor had confirmed in an email that our cases had been dismissed on the grounds that our arrests had been unlawful. I’ve added an English language translation of the press release he drafted together with us below. Please feel free to spread it as you see fit. This outcome important for a number of reasons…
It means not only that the police were out of line when they ordered us to identify ourselves and arrested us. It also means that when the mayor (Mirjam Salet) defended the police action, her statements were in conflict with the law. More importantly, it means that the minister of Justice (Ard van der Steur, VVD) was wrong when he told Parliament that our arrests were justified. Personally, I have some concerns about what this means for freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate. It also raises some questions for me about the extent to which Parliament is doing the job of making sure the actions of police and mayors are in accordance with the law.
Why won’t the national news report on this? Because the prosecutor’s office is stalling the story by refusing to give a public confirmation to the press. The national news channel, NOS, told us they didn’t run the item they made about this even because of the delay in the confirmation by the public prosecutor. In the meantime, we have urged the opposition parties who raised the issue with the minister earlier this year to follow this matter up. It’s especially urgent given the recent events in Rotterdam where we also saw the anti-racist protesters’ rights to demonstrate against Zwarte Piet also being infringed upon by police.
The irony of course is that in the meantime Wilders grows to become the biggest party in the polls and gains massive press attention by claiming that the court convicting him of discrimination is infringing on his freedom of speech. Meanwhile, we who opposed his views through public and peaceful demonstration actually had our legal right to freedom of speech openly infringed upon, we were thrown into cells, and the national media has stayed silent on the matter.
Public prosecutor: protesters against Wilders unlawfully arrested
The ten ‘Feministen in Verzet’ (Feminists in Resistance) who were arrested in Spijkenisse in January 2016 for protesting against Wilders will go free.
Lawyer, Willem Jebbink: minister Van der Steur misled Parliament about the legality of the arrests.
Amsterdam, 13 December 2016
The ten women who were arrested on January 23rd 2016 while protesting against Geert Wilders were wrongly accused. Their cases have been dismissed. The public prosecutor has informed the women’s lawyer, Willem Jebbink, of this. The women should, therefore, not have been arrested and they should also not have been asked for their identification documents.
On January 23rd 2016, Wilders was in Spijkenisse to hand out ‘verzetspray’ (‘defense spray’) to women after the events in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. The PVV leader encouraged them to use the spray against attacks by Muslim men. The group of women, ‘Feministen in Verzet,’ wanted to demonstrate their solidarity with refugees and oppose the spread of xenophobia and racism. They were also critical of Wilders’ sudden attention for violence against women. ‘Wilders is a racist, not a feminist,’ was their slogan.
‘My clients were detained for public gathering, but it is not possible for demonstrators to be convicted on these grounds. That is clearly stipulated in the Algemene Plaatselijke Verodening. It was crystal clear that these arrests were wrongful. Furthermore, my clients’ demonstration was entirely peaceful. This is another example of “goodbye and good riddance:” the mayor and police push through unlawful arrests while repressing the right to free speech and the right to demonstrate. If we hear of people demonstrating against political figures in other countries being imprisoned, we are justifiably outraged. But the exact same thing is happening here. The police have still not sent three of the arrestees’ cases to the public prosecutor. In those cases the dismissals have yet to be established.
On February 18th 2016, the Minister of Security and Justice stated in a letter to Parliament that the Police’s actions were not in conflict with the right to freedom of expression as safeguarded by the European Convention on Human Rights. He also wrote:
‘Aside from freedom of speech and demonstration, everyone also has the obligation to follow police orders, to follow the Algemene Plaatselijke Verordeningen, and to show their identity documents to the police within the reasonable execution of their tasks.’ (See: Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2015–2016, Aanhangsel, nr. 1566.)
Willem Jebbink about minister’s reaction:
From this it is clear that the minister understands nothing about the freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate, while also misleading Parliament about this matter. The government’s role is precisely to take strong action against mayors and police who take making arrests so lightly. Note that my clients were in very cold cells for six hours and one of them was even held for more than 24 hours.
Catherine Black, one of the demonstrators:
‘We are pleased with the public prosecutor’s decision, but we are deeply concerned with the state of demonstration rights in the Netherlands. This past year many other activists, including those active with Kick Out Zwarte Piet, were treated in the same way as us. This is a very dangerous development, which should concern everyone in this country. We want to thank the people who supported us in our legal battle.