Dutch municipalities and police departments do not always guarantee the right to protest, according to a new report by the national ombudsman. In his report, titled "Protesting, an abrasive fundamental right?" (only available in Dutch), Reinier van Zutphen writes that "[t]he government is inclined towards risk-averse behavior."
Protests must be protected
Van Zutphen calls on municipalities and police departments to facilitate lawful protests completely and without reservations. When it is necessary to impose restrictions or regulations, the authorities must take extreme caution – any restrictions to the freedom to protest must in all cases be legally justifiable and well motivated.
The right to protests is protected in the Dutch Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, and this fundamental right of citizens must be respected at all times. A city's mayor must, with the help of the local police force, facilitate and protect protests in his or her community, ensuring that protesters can exercise this fundamental right.
In practice, these authorities too often – and incorrectly – regard the right to protest as matter of balancing interests: the right to protest versus the importance of public order and safety.
The essence of the fundamental right to protest has to be prioritized. This entails that the government must make every effort to facilitate and protect protests, so that citizens can freely express their opinions – however unpopular they may be.
Any other position of the government would detract from the right to protest. With his report, the ombudsman wants to give direction to the public debate about the right to protest.
His analysis is formed through viewing the issue from the citizen's perspective, and his recommendations offer a framework for action for both the government and protesters.