Protests over cost-of-living crisis, journalist targeted by cyber attack
Developments on migrant rights
As reported previously on the Monitor, in May 2021, 470 undocumented migrants decided to undertake a hunger strike for the right to live and work in Belgium. The protesters, who are part of the Union de Sans Papiers pour la Regularisation (USPR) movement had been calling for the regularisation mechanisms in Belgium to be more accessible and fair.
Following these events, after opening an investigation into whether the government was committing a criminal offence for repeated violations of the Reception Act, the Public Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the investigation.
This comes after in early June, a Brussels Labour Court found that there was a deliberate, coordinated and sustained violation of asylum seekers' rights to reception in Belgium under the State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, Sammy Mahdi. Under Belgian law, the country must offer asylum seekers a temporary place to stay. However, many asylum seekers were reportedly left to sleep on the streets before a place was found for them. The court found that the violation of this reception was “organised” in part by Mahdi and that there was a general non-compliance with the Reception Act. After the judgement from the Labour Court concluded that there is a persistent practice of systemic violation of the Reception Act, the Public Prosecutor’s Office analysed whether the competent state secretary committed a criminal offence. On 24th June 2022, the office announced that no criminal offences were committed and that the case had been closed.
Workers protest against cost of living and working conditions
On 23rd June 2022, workers from Brussels Airlines began a three-day strike, lasting until 25th June 2022. The workers union representatives stated that the strike was in response to an increasing workload which is putting pressure on workers. After laying off a portion of workers during the height of the pandemic, some airline workers reported that they are understaffed and forced to work intolerable schedules.
This comes after a national strike day on 20th June 2022, when approximately 70,000 workers marched through Brussels demanding the government take action to combat rising living costs. The workers, including members of the local transport networks and Brussels airport staff, stated that employers needed to improve pay and working conditions as well as protect employeesamid the rising cost of living. A press release from the protest organisers also stated that the demonstration was intended to demand a reform of the law on wages.
Belgian and French pilots from the airline RyanAir are planning another strike on 23rd and 24th July 2022 in response to failed negotiations over improving working conditions. The workers’ union and the airline have failed to come to an agreement in negotiations for several months, which resulted in the first strike notice in April 2022.
Incident against RTBF journalist
On 17th June 2022, RTBF journalist Johanne Montay took legal action against Twitter after she was cyber-stalked and sent death threats on the social media platform. Montay was harassed after posting tweets about the COVID-19 pandemic. She has asked Twitter to reveal the identity of the people behind the accounts which made the threats. Twitter deleted the tweets but did not satisfy the request and argues that it is the Irish, not the Belgian court who has the competency to decide the case, as Twitter is based in Ireland.
@JohanneMontay est 1 journaliste que j’admire bcp et qui a eu une attitude très posée et informative pdt la crise Covid. Elle a tenu bon, a proposé de vraies infos en pleine période de fake news et a fait du bien à un journalisme qui s’écorne. Je suis triste que ça en arrive là. https://t.co/IJ61IoTMiy— K. (@kiwikikoo) June 18, 2022
New plan to fight anti-LGBTQI+ discrimination & racism
On 17th May 2022, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, Belgian Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne announced a plan to make the country a safer place for the LGBTQI+ community. The plan is in response to the increase in crimes on the basis of sexual orientation, including discrimination, hate speech and hate crimes. Belgium scores high on the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Index, which ranks countries according to their legal and policy practices in relation to LGBTQI+ people. However, according to a study by the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights, Belgium is tied in third place with the highest rate of physical or sexual assaults motivated by sexual orientation. The legislation aims to include gender identity and gender expression as “discriminatory motives” in all criminal offences. If passed, the bill will allow judges to impose heavier penalties on those in violation of the law. The bill was approved by the Council of Ministers on 1st April 2022 and was submitted to the Council of the State for further review.
Additionally, on 15th July 2022, the Council of Ministers approved the Interfederal Action Plan to Combat Racism. The plan contains dozens of measures to address equal opportunity, employment, the economy, asylum and migration, health, justice, police, civil service, foreign affairs, digital services and mobility. Further measures also support academic research on neo-colonialism and decolonisation.