The Case: The State against Catherine, Ruth,
Marieke Mieke and Bram
The accused: Catherine, Ruth,
Marieke Mieke and Bram, members of the International Socialists, Amsterdam
The Public Prosecutor: a tall blond guy who could not communicate well
The Judge: a blond of about forty with a high intelligent forehead
Advocate for the defence: Jelle, one of the gang, looking very smart in his toga
Clerk of the Court
The public: concerned parents and close friends
A courtroom for criminal offences in the Amsterdam Courthouse, the Parnas Building designed by Ben Loerakker.
Refusing to follow the instructions of a police officer according to Article 184 Section 1 of the Criminal Law of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
A Hearing in Eight Acts:
2. Introduction of the case
3. The accused tell their story
4. Review of the personal circumstances of the accused
5. The case for the prosecution
6. The case for the defence
7. Closing remarks
8. Judgement and sentence
The hearing was chaired by the Judge. She identified the main players, the public prosecutor, the accused and their advocate. The accused were identified by full name, date of birth and place of residence. Only Ruth and
Marieke Mieke were present. (There had been a little delay in starting the process because Ruth was late. Her tram did not appear. So she had to take emergency measures and arrived at the court by taxi.) The judge verified that Jelle was aware that Catherine and Bram would not appear. Catherine was sitting an exam for her medical course at the university. Bram was on the first day of a new job.
The judge outlined the circumstances of the case and invited the accused to tell their version of events. They decided Ruth should tell the story:
It was shortly after the terrible fire in the detention centre for refugees on Schiphol, where 11 people died. Minister Verdonk (Rita V.) had declared that everyone responsible had taken appropriate measures. The accused felt that Rita V. was responsible for the deaths and should resign. So they had decided to gather signatures from fellow students in support of the demand for her resignation.
They did this on an open public space near one the buildings of the Hogeschool van Amsterdam (HvA).
Most of the students who were invited were happy to sign the statement and were positive towards the action.
The warden responsible for that HvA building objected to their action and told them to move off the HvA grounds. They felt they had a right to be there. There was nothing in the school rules of the HvA which prohibited such actions. The warden called the police. The police, following the request of the warden, instructed them to leave. They still felt they had a right to be there. So they were arrested and charged with not following the instructions of a police officer.
In her enquiry into the personal circumstances of the accused, the judge took an almost motherly interest in the details of their courses of study and their progress - what were they studying, how were the studies going? Mieke had graduated and found a job. Bram was not in court because this was the first day of a new job. For Catherine and Ruth their studies were going well. Ruth fed her interest by mentioning her additional course in History of Art along side her main course in Politics.
The Public Prosecutor did not seem really sure of himself and did not communicate well. His characterisation of events was peppered with inaccuracies.
Jelle made an eloquent, enthousiastic plea for the defence.
The accused were motivated by a sense of injustice. They hold Rita V. responsible for the death of eleven refugees.
The HvA and University of Amsterdam (UvA) share buildings. The accused were all students of one or other institution and had every right to be there.
There was nothing to be found in the school rules forbidding their action. The warden accused them of holding a demonstration. But there was no demonstration. Just four students with a poster collecting signatures in support of a political position. No demonstration, no hindrance, no disturbance. Most students were happy to sign.
There is apparently an issue between students and college about collecting signatures in support of political and social issues. That discussion should not be held in this court. The HvA is in favour of social and political movements among the students. The school encourages students to be socially involved and form opinions. The boss of the warden has been quoted in the HvA newspaper as encouraging ideological associations such as Amnesty International to be active among students in the HvA.
The accused carried out similar actions at other HvA locations without any hindrance from school authorities. So it seems that the it was a personal decision of the warden of this particular building and not HvA policy. It was a very sensitive matter, supported by most of the students who came by, but the action was prevented by the warden calling the police to remove the accused.
The accused were acting out of political conviction. They were convinced they were acting within the rules of the school. They did not resist arrest. They should be declared innocent.
The judgement and sentence
The accused were found guilty of the charge of not following the instructions of a police officer. But taking account of all the circumstances the judge imposed no punishment - no fine, nothing.
Concluding thoughts and chat afterwards
It is probably the best out come which could be expected. The judge could hardly declare them innocent when by their own account they heard the instructions of the police but for reasons of principle did not respond. So by her decision to impose no punishment the judge indicates this charge should never have been brought.
Jelle was proud of the performance of his clients and enjoyed doing a case where the accused were convinced of their innocence and justification. It was much more fun than cases where clients know they are guilty and are sitting there squirming in front of the judge.
It seems we already have the mechanisms in place to turn this into a fully functional police state. Article 184 Section 1 of the criminal law allows the police to create offences by giving groundless instructions to citizens. Simply not following those instructions is a crime and even a sympathetic judge cannot do other than accept the charge brought by the police and declare the citizens guilty.
The girls got some good publicity. 'Trouw' on Friday had a nice report of the case. And the editors had it well positioned on the page. There is a big election campaign photo of Rita V., with her witch like smile, posing with a young Muslim lady at her "naturalisation ceremony". And right below that the report of the kids' case that serves to remind readers of some of the issues in the trail of black cloud Rita V. drags behind her. If it hadn't been for their protest action, there would have been the unblemished campaign photo on that page!
How much did this whole circus cost the taxpayer, I wonder. In the first place four police cars and a minibus were sent to arrest four students. They were held for six hours and questioned. The public prosecutor had to prepare his case. The advocate for the defence worked on a thorough case. Then the whole court hearing, judge, court room facility. And for what? To express the political prejudice of a bad tempered high school building warden?