Eindhoven must allow anti-Islam Pegida demonstration, Ombudsman says

Mayor John Jorritsma of Eindhoven must allow Pegida to demonstrate in the city, according to National Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen. By banning a protest the anti-Islam movement requested for Thursday, the mayor "damages Pegida's fundamental right" to demonstrate, Van Zutphen said to Omroep Brabant. "We must look carefully at whether we can give Pegida another chance to exercise that fundamental right."

On Tuesday Jorritsma decided not to allow a Pegida demonstration on Thursday due to concerns of "serious disorder". According to Jorritsma, the fact that Pegida wants their demonstration to take place during the Sugar festival - the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan - is leading to a lot of "disbelief and resistance within the Muslim faith community". "The police have strong indications that in addition to the counter-demonstrations, a counter-movement is being initiated that does not shun violence and aggression."

This is the second demonstration request by Pegida the mayor denied in a short period. The anti-Islam movement originally wanted to demonstrate on Sunday, but the mayor did not allow it because the request was submitted too late.

According to Van Zutphen, concerns over disorder is insufficient reason to cancel the demonstration. "The right to demonstrate takes precedence. You can only limit it under exceptional circumstances. But now it is a complete 'no' and that goes too far for me."

The disorder Jorritsma fears stems from a Pegida demonstration near the Al-Fourqaan mosque in the city on Sunday, May 27th. The demonstration got out of hand when counter-protesters confronted the 20 or so Pegida demonstrators, pelting them with eggs, stones and other items. The riot police intervened and arrested 10 counter-demonstrators. Four police officers sustained minor injuries. All the arrested demonstrators have since been released. 

Ombudsman Van Zutphen told the broadcaster that the mayor should be careful not to only listen to the counter-protesters. "With only a big mouth, you can prevent another from exercising his fundamental right. That's where it goes wrong", he said. He added that he does understand the difficult position the Eindhoven mayor is in. "I understand the mayor and his colleagues very well. They are all standing with their feet in the mud. But demonstrations must also happen in the mud."

Last year the National Ombudsman wrote a report on the right to demonstrate. He concluded that governments are too inclined to avoid risks when it comes to demonstrations. "As a government you have to go to great lengths to ensure that someone can demonstrate. If that really is not possible, you as mayor must explain clearly and transparently why that is not possible. Just saying: 'I cannot guarantee safety' is not enough for me", he said.