Court rules in favor of Amsterdam face mask rules
The obligation to wear face masks in certain parts of Amsterdam is lawful, the Amsterdam district court ruled on Wednesday. The district court upheld the regional security office’s right to issue the emergency order mandating masks, ruling against five city residents and advocacy group Viruswaarheid.
The court denied the claim by the plaintiffs that the masks are unnecessary because “the hospitals and morgues are empty,” as they claimed in arguments, according to a statement from the court. The face mask measure was a reasonable decision because other less intrusive measures did not do enough to enforce social distancing in the areas where masks are required.
The court also disputed the claim that wearing masks is a violation of privacy rights, calling it “a relatively minor breach.” The court also noted that the duration of the mandate was very limited, its effectiveness would be evaluated after four weeks, and the order was limited to a handful of specific areas.
Further, the court ruled it was not plausible that wearing a face mask can damage one's health, as claimed by residents and Viruswaarheid, which translates to “Virus Truth.” The latter argues against the need for rules to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Additionally, “one can be excluded from enforcement for medical reasons,” the court said in its rejection of the plaintiffs’ stance.
The lawsuit was filed against Veiligheidsregio Amsterdam-Amstelland by Amsterdam resident and cultural entrepreneur Ab Gietelink. Protest group Viruswaarheid, previously Virus Waanzin, joined the lawsuit. According to them, by obligating people to wear a mask in five crowded areas of the city, Amsterdam is guilty of a "fundamental restriction of the fundamental rights of residents, entrepreneurs and visitors."
Jeroen Pols, a jurist representing Viruswaarheid, argued that the obligation to wear a mask in these five places is against the Constitution. "It goes against respect for privacy and against the right to move freely in the country that you are in. The Municipalities Act cannot be the basis of these kinds of fantasy measures," he said in court on Monday, AD reports.
He called the measure unlawful and absurd, because, according to him, non-medical masks offer no protection whatsoever. "98 percent of people do not get sick. Hospitals are empty. Morgues are empty. Nothing is happening. In fact, it is only a government that screams murder and fire," Pols said.
The lawyers representing the Veiligheidsregio argued that the obligation to wear a mask in a handful of crowded public areas does not infringe on people's private lives. "It only involves public space, not the private sphere. You can also move freely with a face mask. The obligation only applies to a small part of the city. There are plenty of places to avoid wearing a mask. And if there is any violation of privacy, it is very limited," they said.
The city's lawyers pointed out that the government has an obligation to actively protect the health of residents. And that the Ministers responsible for the fight against the pandemic left the implementation of measures to the security regions. This means that the Security Regions are allowed to implement measures like a mask obligation, even if it touches on fundamental rights.
The lawyers added that emergency decrees often touch on these rights. For example, if a World War II explosive is found and has to be disarmed, the city can evacuate hundreds of people out of their homes. "That is also an invasion of privacy," the lawyers said.