Right to demonstrate under pressure in Netherlands, Ombudsman says

Demonstration for a more humane European asylum policy on Amsterdam's Dam square, September 13th, 2015 (Picture: Twitter/@lindavvermeulen)Demonstration for a more humane European asylum policy on Amsterdam's Dam square, September 13th, 2015 (Picture: Twitter/@lindavvermeulen)

Being able to demonstrate for or against something you believe in is a fundamental right in the Netherlands. But that right is under pressure, National Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen said in a new report, ANP reports.

Municipalities and the police do not always manage to guarantee this right. "The government is inclined to risk-avoiding behavior", van Zutphen said. Mayors and the police often have to weigh protesters' right to take action without restrictions against maintaining public order and security. Public order often wins, resulting in restricted or even canceled demonstrations.

Examples of this include an Eritrean conference in Veldhoven in April 2017, a Pegida demonstration in Groningen in April 2017, and various anti-Zwarte Piet demonstrations, including one in Maassluis in December 2016 and one in Dokkum in last year

The Ombudsman calls on local governments to give the fundamental right to demonstrate paramount position. "The essence is that the government must make every effort to facilitate and protect demonstrations, so that citizens can freely express their opinions - however unpopular these may be. Every other attitude of the government detracts from the core of the right to demonstrate."

Van Zutphen recommends that protesters be protected against public order disruptions so that all citizens can make their voices be heard. He also advises that, where possible, people should only be arrested after the demonstration to prevent escalations.

The demonstrators themselves also have a role to play in protecting this right, according to the Ombudsman. They must report their demonstration on time and keep good contact with the government. This offers the best chance of everything going smoothly.