Court says police reacted too harshly at anti-Zwarte Piet protest in Emmen
Police and prosecutors responded too harshly when they intervened to stop a protest against Zwarte Piet during a city council meeting in Emmen, the police court in Assen ruled on Monday. The protest, organized by Extinction Rebellion, disrupted the meeting in town hall last November.
The court ruled that the 12 demonstrators were guilty of disturbing the peace, but the police's response to this was disproportionate. The decision by the Public Prosecution Service (OM) to prosecute the case was unnecessary, the court said.
The demonstration was peaceful, and it would have been sufficient to simply remove the demonstrators from the council chamber. After all, the group willingly left the town hall and went outside with the police without resistance.
At that point, however, the demonstrators were not allowed to continue their protest outside, and instead were taken to the police station. They were only asked for their identification. Two people gave that immediately and were allowed to go home. Seven activists did not cooperate, as a result of which they remained in police custody at the station for up to three days. That was too long under the circumstances, the court said.
Extinction Rebellion was calling for the municipality of Emmen to stop including Zwarte Piet, often portrayed by white actors in blackface makeup, at the municipality's Sinterklaas arrival party. The group disrupted the meeting by sitting on the floor and unfolding banners with a slogan that rhymed in Dutch, which translates to, "No Zwarte Piet! Also not [in] Emmen!" Another banner stated, "Emmen can do it." The climate activist organization wanted to show solidarity with the anti-racism movement, and nearly a decade of demonstrations organized by Kick Out Zwarte Piet.
Emmen Mayor Eric van Oosterhout gave the floor to the activists and then asked them to leave the debate several times due to the disruption of public order. The group did not want to leave until Emmen promised to change the appearance of the Piet characters that would be included in the Sinterklaas party. The demonstrators invoked the right to demonstrate, which is enshrined in the Constitution. "But you may not violate other laws and regulations," said prosecutors, and demanded fines of 200 and 300 euros
Most of the demonstrators are guilty of breaching the peace, according to the court. Due to the disproportionate action, the court decided against imposing any punishment against the activists. One person was acquitted, because it is not certain that the woman was present at the action in Emmen.
The spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion expressed her concern about the harsh approach against the demonstrators. "During detention, several of us were treated badly, for example, one of us was moved to Groningen without good reason. The police and OM seem to be doing everything they can to deter us from using our right to demonstrate."
Reporting by ANP