Rotterdam mayor within his rights to ban Zwarte Piet protests in 2016: Council of State

Gavel with lady justice in the background
Gavel with lady justice in the backgroundPhoto: SergPoznanskiy/DepositPhotos

The Rotterdam authorities were within their rights to ban anti-blackface and pro-tradition protests around the arrival of Sinterklaas in the city center in 2016, the Council of State ruled on Wednesday. With this, the Council of State upheld a previous ruling by the court in Rotterdam in 2018. Action group Kick Out Zwarte Piet appealed against that ruling.

On 11 November 2016, supporters of and opponents against blackface Sinterklaas character Zwarte Piet wanted to protest at the national Sinterklaas arrival party in Maassluis, but the mayor banned demonstrations. Kick Out Zwarte Piet then decided to hold an unplanned demonstration at the Rotterdam arrival party instead.

But Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb decided to ban all demonstrations around the Sinterklaas party in the Rotterdam city center. Some 200 demonstrators were arrested that day. 

The decision to ban protests in Rotterdam was made, in consultation with the local police and prosecutor, based on information received that left-oriented parties were planning to demonstrate in the city. This raised several concerns, the mayor argued in court.

First the mayor worried that the anti-Zwarte Piet protest would also attract right-oriented parties, as such protests had done int he past, and that this would lead to conflict between the different groups. As the mayor did not know where or when the demonstration would take place, it was not possible to take preventative measures. And as police officers were already deployed to the Sinterklaas parties in both Rotterdam and Maassluis, there were concerns that the police would not have sufficient capacity to make sure that any surprise protests proceed in an orderly and safe manner. This could have put the safety of visitors to the Sinterklaas party at risk.

The Council of State concluded that the mayor's concerns were valid and that he acted within his powers when he decided to ban protests on that day. "The appeal is unfounded," the Council ruled.