Freedom of speech in The Netherlands
|PEN (Poets Essayists Novelists), the Netherlands and Amnesty International are examples of two organizations concerned with the freedom of expression in my country. They tackle different subjects and try to bring awareness to this topic.
You might think that freedom of expression is something guaranteed in the West but that’s not the case at all. Recently we were very concerned about the arrest of a Dutch columnist Ebru Umar in Turkey. She wrote critical tweets about President Erdogan in 2016 and was held captive; she suffered house arrest and could not leave that country for weeks.
Umar is a journalist inspired by writer and film director Theo van Gogh who made a critical movie together with writer Ayaan Hirshi Ali about the prophet Mohamed. Van Gogh was murdered by a radical Dutch Muslim on the streets of Amsterdam in 2004 because of it. Hirshi Ali had to go undercover and has left the country for the US.
Before that, in 2002, we had our first political murder when Pim Fortuyn, a professor, writer, and one-man right-wing political party with the ambition to become Prime Minister, got assassinated just after giving a radio interview. The murderer was a left-wing radical who didn’t agree with Fortuyn’s opinions.
In my country, you officially can say or write what you like but when you do, like television personality Sylvana Simons did when she spoke out and joined a political Muslim party last year, she received death threats on Facebook and could not walk freely on the streets any longer.
Also, Geert Wilders, a Member of Parliament and extremist right-wing thinker, has protection for years now and cannot go out without his cordon of policemen to protect him.
I am a member of Amnesty International online and I take part in their campaigning to write to governments when a writer or journalist is arrested or tortured because of their writing or actions. We’ve had some success over the years.
Freedom of speech is something we hold very dear. It is part of our constitutional right but it got under a lot of strain in recent years. The tolerant Dutch are not that tolerant any longer. You cannot say or write whatever you want. People got offended very easily these days. And there is a direct outlet on the Internet for folks to vent when they disagree. They can turn ugly!
There have been a few court cases where freedom of speech has been under fire. For example, distributing hate is forbidden by law.
Then there is this famous court case last year of Geert Wilders because of his talks about Moroccan people. In a speech, he yelled: “Do we want more or lesser Moroccans?” The crowd yelled back: “lesser, lesser” and a riot was born. They fined him 5000 euros and a norm was set. It is not allowed to corner and exclude groups of people based on their ethnicity, even when you are a politician and you claim the freedom of expression. 1
Freedom of expression has its limits.