The Netherlands’ burgeoning free speech problem

In 2014, Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch far-right populist Party for Freedom (PVV), asked a roomful of supporters a very on-brand question: “Although actually I’m not allowed to say this… Do you want, in this city and in the Netherlands, more or fewer Moroccans?!” “Fewer!” the crowd enthusiastically chanted. “Well, we’ll take care of that”, Wilders replied. Three years earlier, in 2011, Joke Kaviaar sat down at her computer and published an article on her personal blog. The Dutch political activist and poet, who has been involved in social justice movements and refugee rights in her home country since the 1980s, had long been writing left-wing texts highly critical of Dutch immigration policies and the country’s treatment of migrants. “Where is the Dutch rebellion? Who is going to storm and empty the offices of the IND [Immigration and Naturalization Service], pour petrol over the archives and computers and destroy them with fire?”, she wrote this time. “It’s time for a new generation to stand up and to take the torch over from RaRa”, she added, referring to the Revolutionary Anti-Racist Action, a violent Dutch activist group from the 1980s and 1990s (…) Wilders was charged with incitement and encouraging discrimination for his speech in 2014, but was given no financial penalty or jail time. Shortly after Kaviaar published her post, by contrast, Dutch police arrived to search her house and arrest her; she was held in isolation for three days. Kaviaar was convicted in December 2013 under Article 131 and given a suspended sentence of prison time. After several appeals and a violation of her operational period – she was arrested while protesting the opening of a detention center for refugees in 2015 – she began her seventy-one day prison sentence in January 2019. “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement in order to seek a good life”, she wrote to me from prison, explaining that her texts were “meant to wake people up, to shake things up”.

Sarah Souli in The Netherlands’ Burgeoning Free Speech Problem (