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Opinion: Arrested for expressing an opinion

Joke Kaviaar

8 September 2008 - One moment I was handing out flyers; the next I was pushed against a wall with my hands cuffed. That was reality on Friday 5 September 2008  at the Rokin in Amsterdam.

The police thought it was not allowed to distribute flyers. Even when we explained to them that it regarded flyers with a political content, an opinion, they persisted: "Not allowed. Stop that", they ordered, referring to the police byelaw.

I did not stop. But passers-by hesitated to accept the flyer when they saw the police, for surely something's amiss in front of the Randstad temp agency! The picket line, consisting of a few people with a banner and pamphlets, now suddenly appears threatening. The presence of uniforms apparently suffices to render a small demonstration like this one ineffective.

But I keep trying. I smile friendly at the passers-by who do not avoid us, and extend my hand with the flyer. Meanwhile, a policewoman keeps on trying to interfere, yelling "If you don't stop now...".

Someone else explains to the police that we are holding a short picket to inform people about the role of the temp agency in recruiting 'detention supervisors' - private guards in detention centres for people without papers - from a pool of low-educated job seekers. People who - whether they are aware of it or not - are willing to help violate human rights in the Netherlands. 

Those human rights amounted to little at the Rokin sidewalk either. Gone was the freedom of demonstration, the freedom of expression! And while I kept on handing out flyers, it occurred to me: "This is going wrong".

And there it was. A report had to be filed, so I had to show my ID. Once again the obligation to carry an ID was being used to silence protestors. This was nothing new to me! The court still has to rule on a preventative arrest in Leiden.

Once more, a violation is made up, again an ID is asked for and again my justified refusal was followed by: "You are arrested!"

This is not to say that they immediately put their words into action... But we did finally end the picket, hoping to prevent an arrest. But this was not good enough for the coppers and that is when they seized me. Meanwhile, they yelled through their walkie-talkie that they were being obstructed and needed assistance. But who was being obstructed?

I struggled, for it is unlawful detention, a police state method, and I struggled, for I do not want them to lock me up for handing out flyers. At least let me have climbed a roof, cut a fence, blocked a gate, occupied a building, or whatever, but for handing out a flyer? Is even that not allowed anymore?

Again my arms were twisted, a wrist forced, handcuffs tightened, bystanders threatened with arrest, back up arrives, and again all the rituals of body search, locking up, bringing in, taking photos and finger prints, hours of seemingly endless waiting on six square metres, it all had to take a whole day again and as a bonus I was presented with yet another charge: I had resisted arrest!

What would you do, reader? Have them take away your will and words? Take away your freedom?

That is what it amounted to: for 24 hours. Of course, I could have let them silence me, but then I would not have my day in court to condemn the imprisonment and exclusion of people without papers, and to denounce the violation of the freedom of speech and the freedom of demonstration.

Not I, but the Dutch State will have to give account. Today one constantly hears 'you have to give account for what you've done' in debates on protest methods, but there was a time when this also applied to the police, the legal system and politicians.

Truthfully and without shame - quite the contrary! - I can say: I have often been brought to trial. And time and again, I was convicted. Those who violate human rights never were.


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