Saturday November 12, citizens who were peacefully protesting against Zwarte Piet, or intending to do so, were ‘stopped’, closed in and held by the police in different ways and times. According to Amnesty International both the overall ban on the demonstrations and the ending of the peaceful protest in the center of Rotterdam was considered disproportionate.
Most of the approximately two hundred arrests of last Saturday were unlawful according to Amnesty. In addition, Amnesty is critical of the status and validity of the demonstration ban and the decision of the Mayor of Rotterdam on November 11 2016. In particular the violence that the police used against one of the protesters must be further clarified according to Amnesty.
Demonstration ban disproportionate
The imposition of a total ban on demonstrations is a very drastic measure, which may be used only in exceptional situations. There was no such situation according to Amnesty. A complete demonstration ban means that not every demonstration is assessed separately. The peaceful demonstration against the figure Zwarte Piet in terms of content has not been specifically assessed. The authorities in Rotterdam have thereby insufficiently guaranteed freedom of demonstration. Because of the Mayor fears that violence would be used by the counter-demonstrators should have been reason to protect peaceful demonstrators, not to restrict their freedom of expression.
Even if there is violation of a ban on demonstrations or constraint, this does not mean that the police automatically must or may persist arrest of the peaceful demonstrators. The freedom of demonstration means that a detention decision must be necessary. Amnesty is not convinced that Saturday’s arrest of the peaceful demonstrators was necessary and therefore by far the most arrests illegal.
Disproportionate use of violence
Amnesty has viewed video footage of the arrest of the anti-Black-Piet-activist Jerry Afriyie and believes that there was disproportionate violence used. At least one agent gave Afriyie a fist thrust in his face, without any justification seems to be. Amnesty asks the head of the Rotterdam unit to investigate the arrest of Afriyie.
Lack of notice is not a reason for ban on demonstrations
Amnesty endorses the importance of timely notification by citizens wishing to demonstrate. This is an important tool for the authorities facilitating demonstrations. The absence of a notification was one of the considerations for the Mayor to impose a total ban on demonstrations. According to international and national regulations the lack of a notification in itself, however, should not be a reason for a ban or other restrictive measure.
Status of the decision of the Mayor is unclear
On November 11 2016 the Mayor has, under the Act public manifestations (Wom), imposed a complete temporary ban on demonstrations for November 12, from 06.00 – 18.00 hours, throughout the Center of Rotterdam. But the Wom does not offer the Mayor this power at all. The decision seems, because of the chosen phrases and considerations, like an emergency regulation, but it is not. Remarkably, both the police and the Mayor used the term emergency Ordinance as the basis for the ban on the demonstrations in contacts with protesters and media. With this the authorities creates much uncertainty and created the impression that the status of the decision taken by themselves was not comprehended well.
That raises the question how serious the authorities take the protection of freedom of expression and freedom of demonstration.
Today Amnesty has sent a letter to the Mayor of Rotterdam and the Chief of the police unit in Rotterdam in which they clarified her worries.
Watch a video in which men and women are being beaten and dragged by their hair by police: