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Lese majesty in Amsterdam

15 August 2007 - The inclusion of social anarchist Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis in the hero worship exhibition at de Nieuwe Kerk can be understood as an unintended comment on the recent lese majesty controversy in Amsterdam.

Amsterdammer Domela Nieuwenhuis was thrown in jail for lese majesty in 1887, because his magazine had published an article saying that King William III was not doing such a terrific job.

Recently, a 47-year old man was fined 400 euro for calling the queen a whore, insulting a bicycle policeman and refusing to leave the area when ordered to do so. When detained, he had also given a Hitler salute. According to the court, the defendant was not protected by the right to free speech, because he did not express an opinion but merely his frustration.

It was the first time for someone to be convicted for lese majesty in 38 years. While charging him might be interpreted as a renewed effort to protect the queen, it should more likely be understood as part of a zero tolerance policy aimed at chasing homeless people and drug addicts from certain parts of the inner city.

In June, AT5 reported that police fine drug addicts for offences such as ‘sitting on a monument’ and ‘sleeping outdoors’. Apparently, lese majesty is yet another tool to discourage them.

In response to the lese majesty charge, a 17-year old journalist of the Spunk internet magazine went to Dam Square to ask people which of two t-shirts they found more offensive: one saying ‘[Queen] Beatrix is a whore’, or one saying ‘All Muslims are goat-fuckers’.

The journalist and her cameraman were arrested by various motorcycle and plain clothes policemen. However, the Public Prosecutor (OM) announced that they will not be prosecuted. While the t-shirts were offensive, they were intended to fuel a public debate on the limits of free speech, and therefore not punishable, the OM stated.

When preparing the hero worship exhibition at de Nieuwe Kerk, the organisers could not know yet that lese majesty would become such a hot issue again. The section on Domela Nieuwenhuis focuses not on why he went to jail, but on how he was ridiculed by contemporaries for his vanity.

Illustration: Domela Nieuwenhuis statue near Westerpark, photo Ruud Zwart / Wikipedia. Nieuwe Kerk exhibition, more on Domela Nieuwenhuis, lese majesty verdict, AT5 on zero tolerance, Spunk behind bars (includes video of arrest), OM on not prosecuting Spunk journalists (most in Dutch)


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