The 34 defendants accused of creating a dangerous motorway blockade and depriving protestors of their freedom of speech have been sentenced in Leeuwarden.
Translation by Traci White
The Leeuwarder Courant reports that Jenny Douwes, the main organiser of the blockade, was sentenced to 240 hours of community service and one month of probation.
The majority of the defendants have been sentenced either to 120 hours of community service or 60 days’ probation. One 27-year-old defendant from Twijzelerheide received a reduced sentence of 80 hours, and two defendants – a 34-year-old person from Koudum and a 22-year-old man from Oentsjerk – were sentenced to 180 hours due to their more prominent roles in organising the blockade.
Another defendant, a 29-year-old from Dokkum, was also sentence to 180 hours due to having a prior criminal record. A 34-year-old from Damwâld was also recently sentenced in another case and therefore received a higher sentence in the A7 case: 200 hours of community service and a one-month suspended sentence. Another defendant, a 56-year-old from Heerenveen, received the same sentence. In addition to the community service, 33 suspects who participated in the blockade have to pay for the damages to the buses, and two suspects have to pay for the busted windshield.
“Protest is a constitutional right”
Leeuwarder Courant crimes reporter Stef Altena reports that the court said they had not found sufficient evidence that the blockade relied on threats or violence, but they did find that the blockade was a form of coercion. The defendants were also not sentenced to attend cultural sensitivity workshops, which was the suggestion of the Kick Out Zwarte Piet members who spoke during the trial.
“The defendants insist that they were serving a noble cause and feel that the authorities have misunderstood their intentions. The same can be said for their victims, who said that Zwarte Piet makes the holidays an uncomfortable experience for them”, the judge stated. “Protest is a constitutional right, and the mayor has to do everything within his or her power to ensure that demonstrators are free to express themselves. That is even more necessary when it comes to unpopular opinions.”
Back in October, the Public Prosecutor recommended community service sentences for most participants in the blockade: 80 hours for two of the defendants, 150 for seven others and 120 hours for 23 members of the group.The prosecution had called for several defendants to have longer probation periods than they ultimately received, but the community service sentences were roughly the same.
The suspects were accused of creating a dangerous traffic situation by blocking the highway last year on the day of Sinterklaas’ nationally televised arrival in the Frisian city of Dokkum. Buses carrying the protestors were surrounded by other vehicles, causing a traffic jam and prevented the anti-Zwarte Piet protestors from reaching the city. Under Dutch law, the Public Prosecutor first provides its own recommendations for how a defendant should be sentenced at the conclusion of trial hearings and the ultimate sentence is determined by a judge.
This year, the Kick Out Zwarte Piet group has announced that they intend to peacefully protest in 18 locations across the Netherlands during Sinterklaas’ arrival, including Dokkum, Leeuwarden and Groningen. The group has until a few days before the event to officially apply for a protest permit.