Mayor was wrong to ban anti-Zwarte Piet protest in 2017: Court

Mayor Marga Waanders of was not allowed to issue an emergency decree to ban a demonstration against Zwarte Piet during Sinterklaas' arrival in Dokkum in 2017, the court ruled on Friday. According to the court, the situation did not match the requirements for an emergency decree, and the mayor did not sufficiently consider other, less drastic measures.

Waanders feared that a planned demonstration by foundation Nederland Wordt Beter and Kick Out Zwarte Piet at the national Sinterklaas arrival party would lead to disruptions to public order. She made her decision after a group of activists who want Zwarte Piet to remain a character in blackface makeup blocked a highway as a means to stop the protesters from reaching the Sinterklaas festival in Dokkum.

The mayor then issued the emergency decree to ban the organized demonstration outright, despite having established a clear agreement with the anti-discrimination groups disturbed by the racist characteristics portrayed by the Zwarte Piet character. The court ruled that the mayor was allowed to decide that the demonstration could not take place in the planned location, due to the risk of disorder and concern for public safety, but she was criticized for the slapdash manner in which she acted that day.

"But the mayor did not do enough research into less drastic measures than a ban and has therefore not sufficiently investigated whether the [anti-Zwarte Piet] demonstration could continue in another way. For that reason, the court ruled that the demonstration should not have been prohibited," the court said in a statement.

According to the court, Waanders also should not have used an emergency decree, but an emergency ordinance. Emergency decrees are supposed to have be used in times of crisis, and not in a more generalized manner. They are aimed to have an immediate, factual result in a specific case. According to the court, the planned demonstration was not an ad hoc situation, since Waanders had known for some time that the protest would take place, and the concerns of disruption associated with it.

Separately, the pro-Zwarte Piet activists who blocked the highway were identified and tried. A number of them were sentenced to community service last year. Six of those convicted have been pushing their cases through an appeals process likely to include the highest court in the country.