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NETHERLANDS: Court decisions on climate activists uphold freedom of assembly standards

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– Analysis by ECNL, published on 27 November 2020, accessible here

On October 22, 2020, the Subdistrict Court of Amsterdam decided on seven criminal cases following the Extinction Rebellion Netherlands peaceful, nonviolent protests on 7, 8, and 12 October 2019 in Amsterdam.

Indictment/charges:

Seven activists were on trial because they were suspected of participating in Extinction Rebellion demonstrations that had been banned by the mayor of Amsterdam. According to the Public Prosecution Service, there was a violation of the Public Events Act and the General local regulation (APV) Amsterdam. The demonstrators allegedly did not follow directions from the police during the demonstrations.

Verdicts:

In three cases, the Court ruled that criminal prosecution has been contrary to the principles of good procedural order. For example,  some of the suspects were detained for too long, i.e. more than 12 hours, which is more than half the time prescribed by the law. In addition, the police did not write an official report describing the state of affairs with regard to the tracing of the suspects and the coercive measures used by authorities. The Court argued that it could therefore not rely on the submitted facts by the Public Prosecution and declared these three cases inadmissible.

In the other four cases, the Court argued that there is insufficient legal and convincing evidence that the defendants were guilty of the offense charged. The Court considered that it was not clear to whom the mayor gave the order to end the protest. In addition, Article 2 of the Dutch Public Manifestations Act (WOM) gives three grounds for legitimate restriction of the right to protest: to protect health, in the interests of traffic and to combat or prevent public disorder. The Court considered that it is not clear on which of these three grounds the order to end the protest was based on.  The Court also argued that it could not be established that these suspects belonged to the group of protesters who did not obey orders from the police.

Why are these decisions important?

  • The principles of due process have been upheld as the Court deemed three cases as inadmissible due to procedural missteps, such as the overdue detainment and lack of information on the circumstances of the arrests.
  • Any restriction on the right to protest has to be evidently based on the restriction grounds  provided by the law (i.e. article 2 WOM).
  • A legitimate authority ( i.e. the mayor) that gives the order to dissolve a protest, has to be clear as to which executive authority this is addressed to (i.e. police).
  • Merely being at a demonstration where a group of protestors did not obey orders from the police is not evidence enough to assume that a person belonged to this group.

These court verdicts contribute to strengthening the implementation of the internationally protected right to freedom of peaceful assembly and the rule of law in general. See more about the evolving standards on this right in our news on the UN General Comment 37 here.

More details (In Dutch)

The three cases whereby the Court ruled that the public prosecutor is inadmissible for the prosecution of the suspect:

https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:RBAMS:2020:5100; https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:RBAMS:2020:5101; https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:RBAMS:2020:5102

The four cases whereby the activists were acquitted due to lack of evidence:

https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:RBAMS:2020:5103; https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:RBAMS:2020:5104; https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:RBAMS:2020:5105; https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:RBAMS:2020:5106