SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Rotterdam’s mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb was entitled to prevent an anti-Zwarte Piet demonstration going ahead two years ago on safety grounds, a court has decided.
Aboutaleb intervened when protest organisers changed the venue at the last minute after being refused permission to demonstrate in Maassluis, where the official arrival parade for Sinterklaas was held in 2016.
Anti-racism protests at parade in recent years have clashed with counter-demonstrations held by ‘supporters’ of Zwarte Piet or ‘black Pete’, St Nicholas’s assistant, who is traditionally played by white actors in pageboy outfits with blackface make-up.
Members of the protest group Kick Out Zwarte Piet objected to Aboutaleb’s decision on the grounds that it breached their constitutional right to public protest, but the court said the mayor was entitled to weigh that up against other considerations such as public safety.
Aboutaleb banned the demonstration from the city centre because police lacked the manpower to supervise it safely and there was a risk of clashes with far-right hooligans, the court heard.
Judges also noted that the mayor had not been informed about the demonstration in advance. Organisers said this was because the decision to transfer the protest to Rotterdam was only taken at the last minute.
Police arrested around 180 people who demonstrated on the Erasmusbrug in defiance of the ban. Charges were later dropped against 168 people who were identified as suspects because of a lack of evidence.
The court emphasised that the judgment did not preclude future protests against Zwarte Piet, provided enough advance notice was given. In a statement, Kick Out Zwarte Piet said the decision was disappointing but welcomed the clarity about future demonstrations.
‘This is an important consideration, given that demonstrations by KOZP in the past have often been “hijacked” by counter-demonstrators (a more recent example is the motorway blockade at Dokkum [in 2017],’ the group said. (DutchNews)