Pro-Zwarte Piet activists sentenced to community service for highway blockade

Kick Out Zwarte Piet blocked from protesting racism in Friesland Netherlands on Sinterklaas
The A7 highway blocked near Heerenveen by about 35 people refusing to let groups of people pass through to protest Zwarte Piet, blackface and racism at the Sinterklaas arrival in Dokkum, Friesland. 18 Nov. 2017photo: "Otto" / Kick Out Zwarte Piet

The court in Leeuwarden sentenced pro-Zwarte Piet activists to community service between 80 and 240 hours for preventing two buses of anti-Zwarte Piet protesters from reaching the national Sinterklaas arrival in Dokkum in November last year, reports. 

A total of 34 suspects, all from Friesland, were on trial for blocking the A7 highway so that a group of anti-Zwarte Piet activists could not get to their approved protest at the Sinterklaas arrival in. They were charged with preventing a legal demonstration and causing a dangerous situation by blocking the highway.

The highest sentence, 240 hours of community service, went to Jenny Douwes. According to the court, she played a leading role in organizing the highway blockade and she was therefore convicted of incitement. Douwes placed the call to the blockade on Facebook. After she removed this post, by order of the police, she still remained involved in the action. 

The Public Prosecutor demanded six months in prison, three of which conditionally suspended, against one man due to a previous conviction. The court found this punishment too harsh and sentenced the man to 200 hours of community service. The other 32 suspects got various lengths of community service.

The judge said that the suspect seriously violated the anti-Zwarte Piet activists' freedom of expression and right to demonstrate, according to RTL's live blog of the ruling. The blockade was also traumatic for some of the activists. "It was not up to the suspects to decide who can demonstrate where", the court said, adding that taking the law into your own hands can not be tolerated. 

During the trial, the 34 suspects all denied that they were the first to stop on the highway, and that they initiated the highway blockade. According to them, they did not know in advance what would happen, although they talked about it on Facebook and WhatsApp. They said they went to the A7 out of curiosity and ended up in a group of stationary cars by chance.