Case on right to protest won in Sittard-Geleen; Mayor admits mistake

On December 28, 2016, the PILP lodged a complaint on behalf of two activists with respect to their right to freedom of expression and their right to protest. On November 18, 2016, the Mayor of Sittard-Geleen imposed restrictive conditions on a local demonstration occurring at the start of Sinterklaas festivities. Activists were limited to conveying ‘positive messages,’ about the festivities and thus no statements about associated racism. During the demonstration, the police confiscated placards stating ‘for a racism-free children’s festivity’ and ‘Black Pete is racism’.

The PILP objected to this decision. The right to protest is a fundamental right, as is the associated freedom of expression. The limitations imposed by the mayor constitute censorship in their regulation of the content of a protest. According to the PILP, the mayor’s decision is part of a problematic trend in which the right to protest and the freedom of expression are being increasingly limited. These rights are universal and must be protected regardless of the popularity of the opinion in question. For this reason, the PILP decided to initiate legal action.

During a press conference at City Hall on Tuesday, the mayor admitted the restrictions at the demonstration and the subsequent confiscations were a mistake. “I must follow the law and according to the law, I cannot interfere with the content of a protest.” He advised the Appeals Committee of the municipality of Sittard-Geleen to grant the appeal, thereby finding in favour of the PILP and the targeted activists.

The decision of the Committee cements the internationally recognized fundamental human right to protest and freedom of expression. The PILP is pleased with the mayors’ decision, however it regrets that formal proceedings were necessary in order for him to reach this understanding. Additionally worrying is that, at the time of the demonstration, City Council argued that the mayor had acted correctly.

The Committee has since announced that they will declare the appeal manifestly well founded. A hearing is no longer necessary. The PILP has received the final decision. We consider this case closed and will not be taking further action. Nonetheless, we will remain active in the protection of the right to protest in the Netherlands.