Police Response to Pegida Counter Demonstration Questioned

THE HAGUE – On Sunday 10 April, during a protest by Pegida and counter-protest by the AFA in Spui, the police arrested 54 people, many of whom were innocent bystanders. The response of the police raised questions afterwards on whether this was an appropriate reaction to the threat of violence that might have ensued if the two protests clashed.

The organisers of the march, Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) has been busy attracting more people to their cause, which calls for striking down current immigration policies, protecting the national language (in this case Dutch) and saving the culture of the Western world, as they believe it is under threat from a constant flow of immigrants.

In response, the Dutch Antifascist Action (AFA) announced a counter protest (termed “Don’t let them walk”), with the objective of making the Pegida-organised protest impossible.  However, the spot the AFA were assigned for their protest was Plein 1813, a place too distant from the Pegida-protest for the AFA to halt it.

Before the start of the protest, the police received a tip-off that AFA protestors would be waiting in a fast food restaurant near Spui, anticipating the arrival of the Pegida group. After carrying out a search, the police did find illegal fireworks and some duct tape on the AFA protesters. As a response to that find, the police started checking all bags of the customers in the restaurant and arrested some of the AFA protestors.

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Police search the bags of a customer at a fast-food restaurant next to the route of the march

When the protests began, the AFA and Pegida walked side by side, separated continuously along the route by the police. When both groups reached the Hofplaats, a second group of AFA protestors showed up, shouting chants. The police intervened to keep the peace and arrested the second AFA group. According to a statement published later that evening on the website of the police, this was because of the threat of violence between the two groups and a violation of the “Algemene Plaatselijke Verordening” (an ordinance of the municipality).

AFA protesters, as well as a tourist and journalist, under arrest and surrounded by police.
AFA protesters, as well as a tourist and journalist, under arrest and surrounded by police.

By the end of the day, around 54 people had been arrested. Some of them were AFA protestors, detained because the police were concerned they had more illegal fireworks on them after the previous find, and others were innocent bystanders, standing too close to the protestors. The decision by the police to arrest almost everyone in the vicinity of the counter-protest turned out to be problematic; one of our journalists was arrested, and tourists who were taking pictures were also taken in.

Many others questioned the actions of the police that Sunday. The Hague City-party (De Haagse Stadspartij) published a letter, in cooperation with Groenlinks, Islam Groenlinks, Islam Democraten and Partij van de Eenheid, asking 14 questions about the protest in general and the response of the police to it.

An interesting issue regarding these accidental arrests is how the police treated those who were arrested. A young tourist, who was arrested during the confusion and was brought to a jail cell, overheard the continuous pleads of a man in another jail cell who requested his medication, but was denied this by the police. Many others were prohibited from eating food and using the restroom. A journalist, Frank van der Linden, was also arrested, even though he was only filming the speeches that were made by Pegida-supporters. As a response, he started a petition with the intention of proving that the police were not able to provide him with a legal indictment and so had no reason to arrest him.

The crucial question is whether this was a proportionate response? Did the police act appropriately by arresting everyone near the AFA protestors? By law, whether it was announced to the municipality or not, a protest may only be halted or limited if there is a threat to public health, public order, safety or health. Therefore, the question remains if the police were right in arresting a multitude of people, including bystanders, and why, even though keeping the two simultaneous protest-groups separated, they were unable to ensure everyone’s safety.

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