Peaceful Assembly

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture strongly condemns police brutality

In two tweets on 3rd January 2022, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer criticised Dutch police brutality. In two social media messages, he shared videos of police violence during protests against COVID-19 measures in the country. He defined one of the incidents captured in the video as "one of the most disgusting examples of police brutality since George Floyd". Melzer stated that the officers involved in the incidents should be prosecuted for torture.

Following this, Dutch police unions filed an official complaint against the UN Special Rapporteur. Additionally, Nils Mezler was subject to criticism after his condemnation of Dutch police, but he reiterated that he considers it important to report human rights violations in Western countries, where they are often underestimated, especially in contexts such as anti-COVID-19 protests. 

Demonstration cancelled by public authorities in Amsterdam

On 30th December 2021, a protest organised against COVID-19 measures – which was supposed to take place on 2nd January 2022 – was banned in Amsterdam. The decision was taken by mayor Femke Halsema together with the police and public prosecution department over suspicion that some groups who were prepared to use violence wanted to mix with the protesters. The city said that the organisers reported that about 25,000 people would participate. Although the current limits for participation in public gatherings in the Netherlands meant that only 3,500 people could take part in the event while guaranteeing a safe distance, the organisers refused to limit the number or demonstrators, the city of Amsterdam reports. However, organiser Michel Reijinga told the press that the decision was a scandal and he had offered his full cooperation to city authorities.

The planned protest would have happened on the same day as a police strike in the city, announced the day before the ban was issued. Nevertheless, authorities involved deny any link between the ban and the police strike. The mayor has specified that freedom of peaceful assembly is taken very seriously by the city, but that the security risk was too high. 

#MeToo protest staged

Following allegations of sexual misconduct at popular Dutch TV show “Voice of Holland”, protests have been staged against gender-based violence in what has been dubbed the country’s “Me Too movement”. On 29th January 2022, people gathered at Museumplein to stage a protest to raise awareness of sexual misconduct and calling for change under the slogan “no blame, no change”. Additionally, in a petition 36 organisations called for new laws to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace.

Expression

Animals rights group banned from denouncing the dairy industry

On 4th January 2022, an Amsterdam court ordered animal legal rights campaign group Dier & Recht to remove posters against the dairy industry – which were part of their campaign “Quitting dairy” - as they undermine farmers’ reputation. The campaign was aimed at raising awareness of the suffering caused to calves who are separated from their mothers as a standard practice in the dairy industry. The posters show dairy products carrying a health warning similar to that on cigarettes. The case was brought to court by the farmers’ group Agractie.

Dier & Recht said that the court ruling is “bizarre” considering the health consequences of dairy products on humans, notably lactose-intolerant people, which is often underestimated in the industry's marketing claims.

“It is alarming that the interests of an industry outweigh freedom of expression here. This ruling could therefore have major consequences for the open nature of the public debate.”

The activist group has said that it is considering further legal action and is continuing the campaign with adapted posters on bus shelters in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Haarlem.

Investigative journalist involved in car chase near Amsterdam

On 6th January 2022, Dutch crime reporter for the Telegraaf, John van den Heuvel, was targeted in an alleged car chase on the A2 motorway. A car driven by a 36-year-old seemed to follow the protection armored cars of the reporter in Amsterdam. The police, alerted by the officers who are part of van den Heuvel's protection, intervened and closed a segment of the A2 for about an hour. The suspect - who has minor offences on his criminal record – was arrested on the spot and the police found a crypto telephone and a balaclava face covering in his car. Further investigation showed that the man was involved as a witness in the large liquidation case “Marengo” against Ridouan Taghi and his co-defendants. The connection with the alleged chase is not confirmed yet. Pieter de Vries, an investigative journalist who worked on the case, was killed last July (see previous update).

On 10th January 2022, the man was released due to lack of evidence. However, he remains the main suspect in the case and the investigation continues. Van den Heuvel has been threatened for years due to his work and is under police protection day and night. Thomas Bruning, General secretary of the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ) denounced the worrisome situation for crime reporters in the Netherlands.

Journalist threatened by rioters

On 21st November 2021 the journalist Willem Groeneveld, founder and editor-in chief of the Groningen’s local outlet Sikkom, was targeted by hate messages and threats via Telegram and multiple calls, from a group of rioters who wanted revenge for an article published by the outlet some hours before. The journalist had published screenshots from a Telegram group in which around 175 people chatted about the violent protests against COVID-19 measures that took place in Groningen on 18th and 19th November 2021. In this conversation, protesters were organising a riot and calling for violence. The conversations shared by the journalist offer important elements to identify the rioters. Police have opened an investigation into the violent protest.

After publishing the Telegram messages, Groenveld received many insults and threats, as well as several calls from the members of the Telegram group. He was doxed: his picture and address were made public, and some members of the group even asked for the name of his children’s school, although he does not have any children.