FECL 51 (May/June 1997):

MASS ARRESTS AT THE AMSTERDAM EU-SUMMIT

While the heads of governments of the EU were discussing the amendment of the Maastricht Treaty on European Union at the Amsterdam EU-Summit, the Dutch host city was under a state of siege. The Dutch police preventively arrested hundreds of demonstrators as suspected "members of a criminal organisation". All this was observed with great interest by police liaison officers from other EU-countries. A first glimpse of the "area of freedom, security and justice" established by the Amsterdam Treaty?

Under local emergency regulations decreed by the city authorities, large areas of Amsterdam's inner city were declared "security zones" and the 5000 police concentrated in the city were given special powers to maintain public order.

When the Summit was over, at least 700 people, most of them anti-Summit protesters, had been temporarily detained, sometimes without their arrest even being registered. Preliminary estimates indicate that between 200 and 300 foreigners from EU countries were summarily deported, in many cases without being informed of the grounds for their removal. Many foreigners were deported without their passports, money and other personal belongings. Some were told they would not be allowed to enter the Netherlands for some time and were advised to pick up their belongings at the Dutch embassy in their country. Approximately 130 Italians were held for hours on the train that brought them to Amsterdam and sent back to Italy under police escort in the middle of the night. Belgians and Germans were bussed to the borders and handed over to their home countries' police. Scandinavians were put on planes. 4 Swedes and 12 Danes were brought home on a military aircraft, escorted by a Dutch fighter-bomber the first part of the way. Hundreds of people randomly arrested on the streets of Amsterdam were subjected to police abuse and ill-treatment under detention. Commenting on the treatment of 13 arrested Danes, an upset Danish Vice-consul, Ms Hanne Boonstra, told the Danish press agency Ritzaus: "They sat in a bus for 6 hours, locked in handcuffs and without being given anything to eat or drink. Women were body-searched and accompanied to the toilet by male police, and people were not allowed to ring their embassy, their consulate, or contact a lawyer or their families". Two young Danes say they were arrested as they were peacefully walking on the street, far away from any demonstration or security zone. They were suddenly pushed to the ground from behind by two plain-clothes police, handcuffed and blindfolded like dangerous criminals.

The EU-Summit lasted from 16 to 17 June. But already on Saturday 14 June, a large, long-planned European demonstration against unemployment gathered some 50,000 demonstrators from many EU countries. Some minor clashes with the police occurred during this march, but both the Social-Democrat Mayor of Amsterdam, Mr Schelto Patijn [incidentally a brother of Michiel Patijn, the Minister of European Affairs and Dutch chief-negotiator at the IGC] and the public relations officer of the police declared themselves very satisfied with the outcome of the march and said that minor damages and disturbances were quite normal at events of that size. They omitted to say that hundreds of Italians had been effectively prevented by the police from taking part in the march. As a matter of fact, the police simply held them on the train upon arrival at Amsterdam. Only after the demonstration was over were most of them allowed to leave the station. However, approximately 130 passengers were locked in the train during the whole afternoon. They were later handcuffed and brought to a penitentiary. Their photographs were taken and in the middle of the night they were put on a train back to Italy, allegedly on suspicion of having caused damage in train cars. Significantly, two Italian members of the European Parliament, who wanted to check for themselves whether these police allegations were correct, were denied access to the train by the police. Dutch observers question that the alleged damages were the real ground for the mass arrests. Extensive damage to trains is often caused in the Netherlands by hooligans on their way to football matches, they say, but this has never led to mass arrests. Indeed it seems that the real purpose of the police operation was to prevent as many people as possible from joining the protest march and to remove those Italians regarded as would-be trouble-makers from the Netherlands. A statement of the public prosecutor in the case seems to confirm this: "If you saw what was coming out of this train, you understand what could have happened".

 

Random arrests on suspicion of "membership in a criminal organisation"

The second wave of mass arrests took place on Sunday 15 June around the 'Vrankrijk' building, one of the information centres belonging to Dutch groups opposed to the Summit. Already on Sunday morning the police presence around 'Vrankrijk' was massive and a police special video-van was filming everybody in front of the building. In the late afternoon the police suddenly began arresting people entering or leaving the building, or merely walking around in streets in its wider surroundings. Some people were literally kidnapped - handcuffed, blindfolded and driven away by plain-clothes police in black Mercedes cars. Soon, information spread that the people arrested were being detained and charged on the accusation of "membership in a criminal organisation", in accordance with Article 140 of the Dutch Penal Code (DPC).

At 9pm a group of about 350 people attempted to leave 'Vrankrijk' for a demonstration at the police headquarters in protest against the arrests. After only 20 metres, the marchers were surrounded by riot police, whereupon they sat down on the street and began chanting. After having "cleaned" the area around 'Vrankrijk' from passers-by and curious press people, the police arrested all 350 people, as well as some passers-by protesting against the operation. Again, the arrests were made on the charge of suspected "membership in a criminal organisation". It was the biggest mass arrest in the Netherlands since 1966. Pernille Rosenkrantz, a candidate for parliament of Enhedslisten (Red-Green Alliance Party), was among the arrested. She says that the marchers showed no signs of violence and that she sat down on the street and waited for what was to happen next, simply because the police prevented anybody from moving. She was roughly pushed into a bus, hand-cuffed, and brought to a detention centre, together with 80 other women.

Around 1am the police lifted the cordon around 'Vrankrijk' and a crowd of sympathisers and curious passers-by flocked to the building to size up the situation. Again, there were no signs of violence, again the area was cordonned off, and again the police immediately arrested anyone leaving the building on suspicion of "membership in a criminal organisation". Strangely enough, the police eventually cancelled preparations to storm 'Vrankrijk', although the building, going by the official motivation of the arrests, must be considered the centre of the "criminal organisation".

 

Opening of Summit: Amsterdam a fortress

On Monday 16 June, the opening day of the official summit, the city centre of Amsterdam had all the characteristics of a fortress. The police were omnipresent. Throughout the city people "disappeared", randomly arrested as possible trouble-makers - a suspicion based only on their appearance. Far away from any security zone, 6 people were arrested under Article 140 DPC. Their crime consisted in having somewhat naively, perhaps, asked some policemen for the way to an announced demonstration of Kurdish people.

On Monday evening, a few hundred people gathered near a security zone for what they called a "jubilation march". The marchers intended to approach the hotels where the European heads of government were staying and "cheer" them (somewhat noisily we may assume) "for all the efforts they are making". The organisers also carried a cake they intended to deliver to French President Chirac. After a short discussion with the police, the marchers dropped their idea of delivering the cake. The whole atmosphere was rather jolly and relaxed. But again, riot police surrounded the demonstrators. Some 200 people were arrested. They were tightly handcuffed with plastic tape and put on a bus. The bus did not leave until an hour later. Then, it first headed for a prison on the outskirts of Amsterdam. When it turned out that there was no room for the arrested there, it returned to the city. After a whole night on the bus without food or water, the arrested were finally admitted to another penitentiary. Everybody was released the next day with a fine of 125 Dutch guilders for "illegal gathering", according to a provision of the local emergency regulation in force during the Summit.

 

No formal charges brought

On Tuesday 17 June, a judge ordered the immediate release of three persons, who had brought complaints against the Dutch State for their detention under Article 140 DPC. The judgement said there was no evidence to prove their individual contribution to any criminal organisation. The judge added that this ruling applied to all those detained under similar conditions. A dispute arose about how this ruling should be interpreted. The prosecutor argued that the ruling applies only to persons for whom the grounds of detention have been examined by a judge. Thus, while the three complainants were set free immediately, the other people detained under Article 140 were released only in the days after the official conclusion of the Summit - significantly, without any prior individual examination of the lawfulness of their arrest and without anybody being summoned. To our knowledge, none of the people arrested under Article 140 have as yet been formally charged and Dutch lawyers doubt that anyone will ever stand trial. This is a further indication that the purpose of the arrests never was to actually start penal procedures, and possibly sentence the persons concerned, but merely to keep them away from the streets during the days of the Summit.

 

Well-planned operation

The chief public prosecutor stated several times on television that, long before the Euro Summit, the decision had been taken to get hold of possible trouble-makers through the use of Article 140 DPC. Commenting on the authorities’ justification of the arrests, Fritz Rüter, a professor of penal law at the University of Amsterdam, said that in considering what had happened he could see only one criminal organisation - formed by the Mayor, the public prosecutor and the head of the police, who had been working in a organised way for some months on preparing the deliberate and unlawful arrests.

 

Article 140 a catch-all offence

The use made of Article 140 in the days of the Amsterdam Summit is without precedent in the Netherlands. Article 140 is an old provision within the Dutch Penal Code. In 1918, a leading member of the Social Democrat Workers Party was sentenced under this article for having called for a revolution in the Netherlands. After World War II the provision was used against freedom fighters in Indonesia, when the Netherlands were fighting their colonial war there. Thus, it has been used before against political groups, but always after something actually had happened and with more substantial evidence and more clearly defined charges. Significantly, almost 90% of the charges based on Article 140 never resulted in a conviction. Thus, one could argue that the "usefulness" of the provision consisted in its authorising the police to make much wider use of sweeping investigative techniques than in investigations based on other provisions of the Penal Code. In most of the cases the provision has been used not against dangerous, violent criminals but against radio pirates, organisations involved in the trafficking of soft drugs, squatters, football supporters and extremist right-wing parties.

The Dutch High Court approved of the use of Article 140 DPC for political organisations, but at the same time made a restriction on its use by specifying that the individual participation of persons charged under the Article should have a direct relation to the realisation of the aims of the organisation involved. However, this apparent restriction does not prevent arbitrary interpretation in practice. Is, for instance, someone who donates money every month to an existing organisation to be regarded as a "member", when the organisation is suddenly and unexpectedly being prosecuted under Article 140? According to which objective criteria of assessment (e.g. common objectives, organisational structures, methods of operation, necessary individual contribution) should people be considered part of a criminal organisation?

This is the first time that Article 140 DPC has been used for "pro-active" policing purposes, i.e. to prevent an alleged risk of "disturbances" of public order and security. Dutch critics claim the objective of the operation was not only to prevent people from exercising their basic right to demonstrate at the Amsterdam summit, but also to generally establish a new interpretation of Article 140, extending its use to groups within society whose crime consists in being disliked by the state.

 

"Shoot first, ask later" policy

On Tuesday 24 June the Amsterdam city council discussed the events occurring during the Summit. Only the Green Left clearly disapproved of the behaviour of the police. Most other parties approved, because, as the leader of the Social Democrats put it, "it is better to have an investigation as to why the police arrested innocent people than to have an investigation into the question of why half the city was burned".

The Dutch parliament discussed the police action on 26 June. Apparently inspired by the "shoot first, ask later" philosophy of clint Eastwood films, the Minister of Justice, Ms Winnie Sorgdrager, said she personally approved of using Article 140 in cases like this, but that it was ultimately up to a judge to decide whether its application was justified or not.

The majority of parliament did not disapprove of the arrests as such, but said that the use of Article 140 was not really appropriate and that the time had come to amend the penal code, in order to make this kind of arrest possible under another article of the penal law. Most parliamentary groups carefully avoided addressing the crucial question of whether there were any grounds for the arrests in the first place and whether the state has the right to prevent demonstrations only because it dislikes them.

Most political parties now demand that at least some people be prosecuted under Article 140, so as to allow a court to state whether its use against the anti-Summit protesters was lawful or not. In the meantime, most observers agree that there will be no convictions under Article 140 in this case. Consequently, by calling for "test" prosecutions, the parliament has in fact given the Department of Justice a mandate to investigate an unknown 'criminal organisation' which - in application of the "guilt by association" principle - could theoretically comprise the entire extra-parliamentary opposition in the Netherlands.

 

Foreign police involved in the operation

Foreign police were involved in the police operation at the Amsterdam Summit.

A Dutch police spokesman told a Danish journalist that German, Belgian and British police were dispatched to Amsterdam during the days around the Summit. The Germans brought with them dogs trained to find bombs. The spokesman insisted, however, that the foreign police (including their dogs?) did not actively take part in any operations, but were there merely as observers.

The Swedish police officially confirmed that they had dispatched an "observer" to Amsterdam. According to Italian activist circles an Italian police liaison officer passed information on protesters on the train from Italy to his Dutch colleagues.

A young Danish woman arrested under Article 140 DPC says she was interrogated by a Dutch police official in the presence of a German officer. Most of the questions of the Dutch interrogator related to her participation in 1996 in a demonstration in Germany. According to the woman, the Dutch police officer constantly referred to information he could only have gotten from the German police.

Dutch groups involved in the anti-Summit protest claim that German and Italian police warned the Dutch authorities before the Summit about trouble-makers from their respective countries planning major disturbances of the Summit, thereby triggering panic among the Dutch police who had earlier shown a rather relaxed attitude in preparing for the Summit. While there is, for the time being, no substantial evidence to confirm this, it is established that, weeks before the Summit, a couple of Dutch police detectives visited numerous squatted houses in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities and strongly warned the occupants against accommodating foreign guests during the Summit. The two detectives particularly encouraged people to ring them if they had "problems with Germans". The occupants (whose squats have been legalised by the authorities), were told that non-compliance with the above instructions could entail their immediate eviction.

It is further established that fingerprints and photographs of arrested and deported people were not only taken by the Dutch police. The German police took photographs and fingerprints from their nationals upon arrival at home and told them they would be charged for "disturbance of the peace". According to some accounts from Italians sent back to Italy by train, German police escorted the train during the entire route through Germany and made an attempt to take photographs and fingerprints of some of the people on the train. According to the same sources, Italian authorities were put under strong pressure from the Netherlands and Germany to arrest their returned nationals upon arrival in Italy, but refused to do so. The above has however not been confirmed by any independent source.

Hitherto there is no official confirmation of any formal structures of international police cooperation, such as Schengen or EDU/Europol, being involved in police action before, during and after the Summit. The Dutch authorities have so far chosen to neither confirm nor deny specific suspicions expressed by activist circles of extensive registration of protesters in the Schengen Information System. In the Danish parliament, Enhedslisten (the Red-Green Alliance) has put a written question to the Government. The MPs want to know whether Danish authorities passed information to Europol, Interpol or Dutch authorities, whether EDU/Europol was involved in the police operations, and what will happen with the fingerprints and photographs of the 29 Danes arrested without grounds in Amsterdam.

 

Sources: 'EUROTOP Amsterdam - Complaints Book on Police Conduct during the Amsterdam Summit', Amsterdam, July 1997, Autonoom Centrum, Jansen & Janssen, Prisoner Support Group; Ritzaus press agency reports, 17 and 18.6.97; our correspondents in Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland.
See also 'Opinion' in this issue.