(CN) - Europe's top rights court took issue with the arrest of anti-eviction protesters in the Netherlands on Tuesday, finding Dutch authorities violated their right to assembly.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Dutch Supreme Court had erred when it failed to consider if a 2011 eviction protest in Amsterdam was a legitimate demonstration, upholding a criminal conviction against five activists.
The eviction of an 18th-century former school building in the center of Amsterdam resulted in 143 arrests, including the five applicants in the complaint. Riot police in the country's capital removed residents of the Schijnheilig squat in July 2011 after years of legal wrangling. The squat's name means "hypocritical" in Dutch.
The group was charged with disturbing the public order and failing to comply with the police. Initially, the Amsterdam District Court dismissed the charges but after prosecutors appealed, the five were convicted. That decision was upheld by the Dutch Supreme Court in 2017.
"It is a shame that we have had to pursue it for 12 years," lawyer Willem Jebbink told Courthouse News. He has been representing the group since their initial arrest.
The Dutch Supreme Court held that the protest wasn't a peaceful demonstration because the protestors were seeking a conflict with the police by fighting a lawful eviction. Under the European Convention of Human Rights, the 1953 treaty that underpins the court, Europeans have a right to freedom of assembly.
According to the Strasbourg-based court, restrictions against the right to protest are limited. "Even if the aim of the demonstration had been to try to prevent the eviction of the Schijnheilig squat, that did not, of itself, remove the scope of protection of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly," the seven-judge panel wrote.
Further, there was no indication the group had planned to be violent, and the five who brought the complaint to Strasbourg were not among the small group charged with throwing objects at the police.
The eviction at the Passeerdersgracht canal was one of many forcible removals of squatters after a 2010 law made it illegal to occupy buildings. The Netherlands had a long history of squatting, or "kraken" in Dutch. The movement grew during the 1960s, when landlords intentionally kept buildings to drive up prices. Riots broke out in the 1980s, leading to tanks being used to clear barricades in Amsterdam.
Following the ejection of the squatters, the building was first used as an art gallery but has now returned to an educational space as part of the IC University of Applied Sciences.
The court also ordered the Netherlands to pay 3,468 euros ($3,700) in damages.
The case will now return to the Netherlands where, under Dutch law, it will be reconsidered by the Supreme Court.
Jebbink, the group's lawyer, is confident judges will reach a different conclusion in light of the Strasbourg ruling. "I expect that this will change the way Dutch courts consider protest cases," he said.
Source: Courthouse News Service