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Blog | The right to protest under pressure – why I will sit on the asphalt again on March 11

Last Saturday, I had many long hours to think and reflect while I waited to be questioned by the police after being arrested for blocking the A12 motorway in The Hague together with hundreds of other climate activists. Although the climate and environmental crisis alone is enough to keep my mind worried (and the very reason I sat in a draughty police gym waiting for my turn), my thoughts also wandered off to some other disquieting events prior to the blockade.  

31 January 2023

As the climate and environmental crisis intensify, activists and civil society groups all over the world continue to stand up to the logging, mining and energy giants who are exploiting natural resources and fueling global warming. While environmental protestors are being criminalised and met with repression in many countries, activists in The Netherlands have had the privilege that their constitutional right to demonstrate has been relatively well protected by Dutch authorities so far.  

In that light, it worries that days before the blockade, 8 activists were detained by the Dutch authorities on suspicion of sedition linked to calls to stage the protest. “Calling for a criminal offence, such as blocking the public road, counts as sedition,” the Public Prosecution Service (OM) said. According to Extinction Rebellion and many others, the arrests are part of an effort to suppress the peaceful blockade and criminalise activists that called out to protest to demand that the billions of fossil subsidies of the Dutch government will come to an end. 

The arrests fit in a preoccupying tendency that Amnesty International already described in a report some months ago. ‘The right to demonstrate is under pressure in the Netherlands. The local governments too often unnecessarily hinder or even ban demonstrations for fear of disturbances’. Amnesty points out that this regular curtailment of demonstrations violates human rights. Peaceful protestors should not be considered “burdens” or a “security risk.” 

Fortunately, the events did not remain unnoticed. The arrests were broadly criticized and condemned and sparked a wave of support for Extinction Rebellion and for the right to demonstrate. Political parties questioned the mayor of The Hague, and many organisations and movements expressed their concern. Nearly fifty directors and representatives of civil society organisations, including Partos and many Partos members, also spoke out loud and clear and marched to defend the right to protest during the blockade in The Hague.  

I feel privileged to work at an organisation such as Partos, which works with its members to nurture, harness, and mobilise civic power and where I have the honour to lead the Climate Justice Learning Trajectory. Many of my co-activists struggle with combining their activism with their daily role as an employee of the government, bank, corporate, etc. In my case, my work at Partos transitions seamlessly into my activism. 

Extinction Rebellion has announced a new road blockade on March 11. I look forward to raising my voice again for climate justice. The authorities’ pressure on the right to demonstrate has only made me, and many others, more determined to do so. Looking forward to seeing my fellow activists and colleagues from many Partos members again on the asphalt. 

Foto: Amine Ouadrhiri / Oxfam Novib