Unions protest against demonstration restrictions, as 14 Greenpeace activists stand trial

A demonstration took place on Wednesday morning at the offices of Belgian Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne in Brussels. Trade unions protested against the bill, which could impose restrictions on demonstrations, set to be voted on Wednesday afternoon in federal parliament.

The demonstration took place on the same day as the start of a trial against 14 Greenpeace activists for entering the port of Zeebrugge during a protest.

The action was organised by trade unions ABVV-FGTB, ACV-CSC and ACLVB-CGSLB, Greenpeace, Liga voor Mensenrechten (Human Rights League), Vluchtelingenwerk (Refugee Work) and FOS. Several hundred trade unionists and activists were present.

The draft law to make justice "more humane, faster and tougher" came at the request of Brussels mayor Philippe Close, who wants to end vandalism and rioting in Brussels during demonstrations. Close drew inspiration from recently approved legislation to punish hooliganism.

'A slippery slope'

The reform aims to crack down on rioters - those who are not part of a demonstration but cause damage while a demonstration is taking place. However, according to FGTB, the provisions in the draft law are so broadly defined that anyone who takes action in the future could be targeted. Trade unions and civil society organisations criticise the "vagueness" of the legislation. Federal FGTB secretary Raf De Weerdt stressed that "restricting the right to demonstrate is unacceptable for trade unions".

Greenpeace, too, fears the legislation is too broad. On Wednesday, a trial began in Bruges against 14 Greenpeace activists for a protest action at Fluxys' gas terminal in the port of Zeebrugge.

"This law is a slippery slope towards curbing the free expression of civil society," said Greenpeace's Joeri Thijs. "Just today, 14 Greenpeace activists stand trial after peaceful action in the port of Zeebrugge. This protest is now being criminalised in part. This law threatens to further open the door to criminalising these forms of protest and criticism."

Demonstration at courthouse

A group of Greenpeace activists occupied Fluxys' gas terminal in Zeebrugge for several hours on 29 April. Five rubber boats sailed onto the Fluxys site - with the operator's permission, the activists say. They climbed onto the docks used to unload and load gas tankers. Greenpeace was calling for a halt to all new gas infrastructure and a European plan to phase out gas by 2035.

Fourteen activists were arrested after the action ended: five Belgians, three Germans, two Austrians, two Dutch, one French and one Briton. Due to aggravating circumstances, they face up to a year in prison and an 8,000 euro fine. The case will be heard on 4 October.

During the start of the trial on Wednesday, activists gathered outside the courthouse to protest against the lawsuit.



Activists gathered outside the Bruges courthouse to protest against the lawsuit against 14 Greenpeace members © BELGA PHOTO ADRIAAN CLYNCKEMAILLIE

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