The inhumane and horrible events in Israel and Gaza have led to people all over the world organizing demonstrations and marches calling for a cease-fire and in solidarity with the plight of Palestinians.
A group of concerned citizens in Sint Maarten also felt obliged to take to the streets and organize a dignified and peaceful demonstration in solidarity with the people suffering in Palestine.
During consultations, where the police and organizers positively interacted, a march route was determined and a date was agreed for the 19th of November 2023.
The organizers of the demonstration were startled to find out that the Minister of Justice prohibited the march from happening with a formal decision on 17 November 2023. The Minister, using the term propaganda, stated there were rumors on the internet related to the protest, allegedly talking about the destruction of property and a call to burn flags. The authorities stated to expect severe unrest that could not be prevented by placing restrictions on the demonstration: the only option left was the complete banning of the demonstration which effectively resulted in a prohibition of the related freedom of speech and assembly.
Humera Alam, spokesperson for the organizers of the demonstration stated: ‘We had and have no indications whatsoever about any expected unrest at all. The protest was planned to be small, modest, and peaceful and, in agreement with the police, we had also arranged a group of participants to keep order in close collaboration with the police.’
She adds: ‘by completely banning the demonstration, we were not able to voice our concerns, feelings, and solidarity about Palestine. Our civil and human rights are being oppressed and violated, which actually makes the prohibition about more than just the reason for demonstrating in the first place. We are also disappointed because of how non-transparent the authorities were during the whole process.’
The organizers decided to take legal action, and last December an appeal was sent to the Court of First Instance. Find a direct link to the appeal here (in Dutch) or read more about this case here.
The organizers are supported in this case by the lawyers of PILP, a human rights law firm and NGO based in Amsterdam that has ample experience on right to protest cases. Jelle Klaas of PILP, the leading lawyer in this case said that: ‘The decision to ban the demonstration altogether is highly problematic. First, because authorities, if at all necessary, can also impose restrictions that are less far-reaching than a total ban. Second, because the decision is legally completely contrary to the law and human rights. Third, because an enormous chilling effect emanates from this decision, making people (wrongly) think that demonstrating in Sint Maarten is not possible or allowed, which is damaging to democracy and the rule of law.’
A court hearing is expected later in the year.