Netherlands dispatch: Groningen student encampment dissolved by police, but protests continue Dispatches
© UKrant - independent news outlet for academic Groningen
Netherlands dispatch: Groningen student encampment dissolved by police, but protests continue

Last Wednesday, the pro-Palestine encampment on a small square in front of a Groningen University (RUG) building in Groningen was cleared by police officers and municipal services. The protesters, who had intended to end the camp in the next few days, left after being warned of a big police presence close by. Now nothing is left of the camping gear, books, clothes and artworks of the students that were picked up by municipal garbage trucks.

That afternoon, a last protest march was held in the Groningen city center, not far from the now-emptied square. At the time, I was studying in a faculty building across the street. Everyone was suddenly asked to exit via the back door due to safety concerns about the street protest. From inside, I could not hear nor tell what was going on beyond the door: a street protest had ended in protesters occupying a university building for several hours. The students also hung a banner outside its window stating “RUG, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide”. Outside, a large crowd of protesters formed a human chain to keep the police from entering the premise. A bit later, police in riot gear arrived and ordered the protesters to leave the building. Some followed the order, but eventually the officers entered the premises and used force to evict the protesters, after closing down the blinds to cover the windows.

The protest camp’s Instagram page shows videos of students being beaten with batons, arm-locked and some arrested outside the building. In a post, an anonymous person describes how they allegedly suffered excessive violence and was held in custody indoors for an “illegal” amount of time. The spokesperson of the camp uploaded a statement about her arrest and how she was beaten unconscious, as well as not being addressed with a reason for the detainment. The Groningen Student Union (GSb) has condemned the police action as “disproportionate and intimidating” and multiple protesters are preparing for legal action.

If the allegations are true, they might have legal implications under Dutch procedural law. First, that provides for an obligation for an outdoor activity at least twice a day, which was alleged to be violated by the anonymous person. Second, detainees are entitled to contact their lawyer before any possible conducted interview with authorities. Such an interview should have taken place in case that person was actually in detention for 48 hours, since Dutch procedural law only allows this prolonged detention for the purpose of further questioning.

As regards the University’s response to the protest, the police intervention is not completely in line with the overall policy towards protests by Universities. Dutch higher education institutions recently published a joint directive that does not draw a red line when it comes to occupying buildings – it does not call for the clearance of a building even in case of vandalism, or threatening behavior. Instead, the document points towards the house rules of the institution, which were, in the case of the RUG, tightened in response to recent rallies. Upon request, the press officer of the University of Groningen declined to comment because the police and municipality are responsible for the officer’s actions after all, so the role of the spokesperson is passed on to them.

On Sunday after the protest, organizers called for a silent march in honor of the victims of war in Gaza. Before the march, a speaker condemned the police violence, saying that “we are all traumatized and bruised, and even though we will have to recover days, maybe even months from this, we will continue to fight. This was our declaration of war.” At a walkout Monday protesters decried the excessive police violence, while also upholding the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) demands targeted at Israeli institutions, and calling for the RUG dean to resign. As a preliminary assessment, it seems like the police intervention did non de-escalate the conflict — instead, it may mark the beginning of even fiercer confrontations between the University and pro-Palestine protesters.