Keti Koti lecture canceled over controversial speaker

Slavery monument in Oosterpark in Amsterdam
Slavery monument in Oosterpark in AmsterdamPhoto: Klaas `Z4us` van B. V/Wikimedia Commons

The annual lecture to commemorate the abolition of slavery in the Netherlands, the Keti Koti lecture, has been canceled due to controversy that arose around the invited speaker, publicist Sandew Hira the national institute for Dutch slavery past NiNsee announced this weekend. Opponents criticize Hira for supporting Surinamese president Desi Bouterse, despite human rights violations in the country, the Volkskrant reports.

Last week Theo Para wrote a piece on the Surinamese website Waterkant about Hira's ties with the Surinamese president. Para called Hira "currently the fiercest advocate of unconditional violations of the amnesty for human rights and crimes against humanity, committed under the military dictatorship of Desi Bouterse."

Ninsee initially defended the choice to have Hira give the lecture, but on Saturday the organization withdrew his invitation. In a press statement NiNsee said that the unrest around Hira made it impossible to "organize a worthy lecture" that contributes to harmony and solidarity. The Keti Koti lecture was scheduled for June 29th in the Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam. 

Hira is furious about the cancellation. In a statement on Sunday, he said that he is the victim of "an intimidation campaign by a group of extremists" led by publicist Theo Para. According to Hira, the cancellation of the lecture is a violation of freedom of expression. He wanted to talk about "a decolonial vision of the history of slavery", he said. "But the theme does not sit well with extremists. If I were to talk about the weather, they would still be campaigning to make it impossible for me to speak." He called on the Surinamese community in the Netherlands to organize a meeting where he can still give the Keti Koti lecture. "As a protest against the violation of freedom of expression."

Para said in a response that this is 'not about silencing Hira", according to the Volkskrant. "The issue is whether it is appropriate to have a defender of human rights violators and an advocate of impunity, give the lecture of freedom, equal rights and human dignity, the Keti Koti lecture."