Grim footage shows protestors being bitten by dogs and hit by batons
Earlier this week a UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Nils Melzer, condemned video footage showing Dutch police brutality at an anti-lockdown protest. The footage in question — which Melzer described as “savagery” — dates back to March last year in the Hague, and shows a man on the ground covering his head as two police officers in riot gear beat him with batons.
Melzer, who is making official UN visits to the Netherlands, Poland and France this year to assess police violence, appears to have believed the video showed recent anti-lockdown protests in Amsterdam on January 2. After he called for the officers’ prosecution, the Dutch police quickly responded, clarifying that the Public Prosecution Service was already doing so (it having happened in March) while adding that the officers were acting “under extremely difficult circumstances”.
➡️This is one of the most disgusting scenes of #PoliceBrutality I have seen since #GeorgeFloyd!
➡️These officers & their superiors must be prosecuted for the crime of #torture!
➡️THIS SAVAGERY MUST STOP HERE & NOW!
➡️I will send an official protest note shortly! https://t.co/GdGwRlDNup
— Nils Melzer (@NilsMelzer) January 3, 2022
Strangely enough, it is Melzer, not the police, who has been criticised. Hillel Neuer, a Canadian lawyer and human rights activist, claimed he was “sharing misleading information from racist groups” and “threatening to undermine trust in the United Nations”. Dutch police unions have also filed an official complaint to the UN over the tweet, describing it as “prejudiced”, and NGO “UN Watch” called on Melzer to resign over the comments.
But while Melzer’s original tweet may have contained an error, far more worrying is the prevalence of such incidents in the first place. Just this weekend, new footage of anti-lockdown protests in Amsterdam on Sunday has emerged, showing protestors being bitten by police dogs and hit with batons — a striking similarity to last year’s violence at the Hague. In a particularly shocking scene, a middle-aged man is beaten over the head with a baton and falls to the ground.
The January 2 protests came in response to the Dutch government’s strict Covid measures over the Christmas period. After the emergence of Omicron, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced a lockdown last month, closing all “non-essential” shops, bars, gyms and other public venues just a week before Christmas, measures set to stay in place until at least 14 January. Indoor visitors were limited to two (relaxed to four between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day). Outdoors, a 1.5m social distancing requirement — enforced by potential €95 fines, together with a “ban on events”, which meant an effective ban on protests. Subsequently, Amsterdam’s Mayor, Femke Halsema, declared the anti-lockdown march illegal.
Known for their easy-going lifestyle, residents of the liberal capital of Europe do not take kindly to the government’s continuing harsh restrictions, especially with Dutch Covid indicators some of the best on the continent. According to government statistics, the Netherlands has 86% vaccine coverage and falling ICU admissions, currently averaging 25 per day — or 1 in 680,000 of its 17 million population. Deaths have also been falling, roughly halving from 50 to 25 per day in the last 5 weeks.
All of which makes the rationale of the protest understandable, but the draconian response less so.