Home Affairs Minister to discuss right to demonstration with mayors

Minister Kasja Ollongren of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations will arrange a meeting with mayors and local governments to discuss citizens' right to demonstrate and the considerations that should be taken into account when a demonstration is canceled, she said in response to parliamentary questions from DENK MP Tunahan Kuzu, AD reports

Kuzu wanted to know exactly why an anti-racism demonstration by Kick Out Zwarte Piet was canceled at Sinterklaas' national arrival in Dokkum on Saturday. "A permit was issued, but it was withdrawn at the last minute. This happens more often lately", he said. He asked the Minister whether the decision to cancel a demonstration should not be tested independently.

Ollongren emphasized that she absolutely believes in the importance of the right to demonstrate. "The Amsterdam mayor [Eberhard] Van der Laan always said: The right to demonstrate is almost sacred. I agree with that", Ollongren, herself formerly deputy mayor of Amsterdam, said. At the same time, a local government must make an assessment on whether a demonstration can safely take place, taking into account the risk of problems.

According to Ollongren, the mayor of Dongeradeel, which covers Dokkum, made this assessment and decided that the risk of disorder at the protest was too great. The Minister said that she doesn't get the impression that the 'chance of disorder' is too casually used to prevent demonstrations. "But I am prepared to meet with local authorities to see how these situations are handled."

Kuzu also asked about statements made by State Secretary Raymond Knops of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations on program WNL on Sunday. He said that, as far as he's concerned, Zwarte Piet should stay black. That contradicts statements by Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven of Education, Culture and Science, who said that traditions should change with the time.

Ollongren answered that the Dutch government speaks with one mouth, but Knops' statements show that the Netherlands "is big in diversity". "There are a lot of emotions around this subject, both from supporters and opponents. I hope that there is also room for understanding from both sides."

On Saturday Zwarte Piet supporters blocked the A7 highway to prevent Kick Out Zwarte Piet reaching Dokkum for their arranged demonstration against racism at Sinterklaas' arrival. When the protesters finally arrived in the Friesland town, their demonstration could not go through. Earlier this week, the mayor said that demonstrations during the Sinterklaas arrival were canceled based on information that protesters brought dangerous fireworks with them. 

On Tuesday afternoon the Public Prosecutor announced that a criminal investigation was launched into the highway blockade, which is a punishable offense. The blockade caused many traffic problems, as well as several accidents, according to Dutch public works department Rijkswaterstaat.