Nearly 200 arrested during protests over Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands
On 12th November, a protest organised in Rotterdam to demonstrate against the controversial character Zwarte Piet turned violent. The Zwarte Piet character refers to Saint Nicholas' servants, who are traditionally portrayed in blackface and wigs of curly black hair. While the Zwarte Piet has long been viewed as racist and offensive, it continues to be a tradition in Dutch festive celebrations; prompting many to view it as a symbol of entrenched racism within Dutch society. Despite a protest ban, several hundred belonging to the group Kick Out Zwarte Piet defied the authorities and came out to voice their opposition to the character. 198 people were arrested as security forces attempted to disperse the protest, with many claiming that excessive force was used. On 22nd November, anti-Zwarte Piet activist Jerry Afriyie filed abuse reports against a number of police officers for unnecessary use of violence during his arrest. The video below shows how, as Afriyie was pulled out of the bus and into police custody, he was also punched in the face and hit with clubs by security forces.
Participants have deemed their treatment unconstitutional and an abuse of security measures limiting the freedom of assembly of those challenging racism in the Netherlands. In a statement, Amnesty International called the arrests 'unwarranted' and pointed out that there was no reason to implement a demonstration ban during the national festival.
'Even if there was a violation of a demonstration ban, it does not mean that the police should or can detain peaceful protestors automatically.'
In a separate event on 21st November, security forces also intervened at a rally taking place in The Hague. The left wing protest, organised under the slogan “Stop oppression against anti-facists and anarchists”, attracted 200 activists demonstrating against a perceived increase in right wing political sentiment in the Netherlands. While the rally had been approved by security forces, Dutch authorities had imposed the caveat that participants leave their faces uncovered while participating. Despite this, at the start of the demonstration a number of protestors obscured their faces with scarves, hoods and sunglasses. Their subsequent refusal to unmask lead the Mayor to end the event, prompting the security forces to intervene. 166 people were arrested as protestors resisted the breakup of the demonstration.
On 9th December, far-right leader Geert Wilders was found guilty of inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans in a verdict that is expected to reignite an already tense debate about migration in the Netherlands. The conviction refers to comments made in a post-election speech in 2014 that were considered “demeaning and thereby insulting towards the Moroccan population”. Judges noted that the remarks were clearly aimed at an ethnic population group and delivered in a televised speech for maximum effect. Wilders denounced the trial from the outset as politically motivated and an attack on free speech.
In a separate incident on 29th November, Dutch MPs overwhelmingly voted to ban the Islamic full-face burka from some public places such as schools and hospitals. Many have viewed the controversial decision as an infringement of fundamental freedoms.
On 27th October, five men were sentenced to four years in prison for arson with a terrorist intent, following an incident in February at a mosque in Enschede. The convicted men threw molotov cocktails at the mosque while 30 people were inside, including children. While some of the sentences were conditionally suspended, the sentences were in accordance with the public prosecutor's demands. The Court stated:
'By carrying out their right-wing extremism and racist ideas in this way they brought a great deal of fear to especially the mosque goers in Enschede and the Dutch Muslim community in general.'