Today, the district court of Leeuwarden convicted all 34 suspects who blocked the A7 highway on 18 November last year. In doing so, the suspects – better known under the name blokkeer-Friezen (or ‘blockade Frisians’) – prevented a planned anti-Black Pete demonstration during the national entry of Sinterklaas in Dokkum (Friesland). Frontwoman Jenny D. was sentenced to 240 hours of community service and a suspended prison sentence of 1 month for incitement to prevent the freedom of expression of others.
The protesters who were in the busses that had been stopped had united under the name ‘Kick Out Zwarte Piet’ (KOZP). Jerry Afriyie, Mitchel Esajas and the foundation Stichting Nederland Wordt Beter (or ‘The Netherlands is Getting Better’) had joined the criminal proceedings as injured party. Amongst other things the filed a claim for damages for the costs they had made such as bus rental and material for the demonstration. They had also filed a claim for damages in kind for their immaterial damages. They asked the court to obligate the suspects to participate in a course given by Stichting Nederland Wordt Beter about the history and creation of the Sinterklaas festivities and the figure of Black Pete.
The court ordered the convicted suspects to pay the material damages, but rejected the claim for immaterial damages.
The victims are happy that the court has now confirmed that this manner of taking the law into one’s own hands cannot go unpunished. The protestors experienced fearful moments on the busses. Additionally, as a result of the blockade, they were unable to exercise their constitutional right to demonstrate. This verdict therefore underlines that everyone must be able to exercise their right to protest in a peaceful manner. In a reaction, KOZP says:
[Freely translated form Dutch] ‘We are pleased with the judgment. The court has sent a clear signal that the highway blockers must be punished for their actions. The court has thereby sent a clear signal that citizens cannot take the law into their own hands in a rule of law state. In the weekend of 17 November, there will be peaceful protests for inclusive Sinterklaas festivities in 18 municipalities. There are already groups that are organizing counter-protests, i.a. in the city of Den Helder. We hope that they will leave their battle axes at home and that they will respect the right to freedom of expression and demonstration. We are striving for is a celebration for all children. Nothing more, and nothing less.’
The injured parties find it disappointing that the court rejected their claim for immaterial damages. According to the injured parties, the obligatory participation in the course would have been a lovely opportunity to bring the parties together and foster mutual respect for one another’s points of view. This was also the original goal of the demonstration that had been thwarted and the injured parties had hoped that this order of damages in kind would have made it possible to realize that goal after all.
The court’s judgment can be read here [in Dutch].