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Campaigners remind of right to protest after pro-Palestine rally broken up by police

15:47 01/06/2024

Human rights organisations have issued public reminders of the right to protest following police interventions during recent pro-Palestine demonstrations in Brussels.

VUB and ULB students called for a spontaneous pro-Palestine demonstration on Wednesday evening outside the Israeli embassy in Uccle, which attracted 500 participants.

Uccle mayor Boris Dilliès (MR) had not authorised the demonstration because no request had been made by the rally organisers.

All embassy entrances were blocked and about 50 police officers - both local and federal - were deployed to keep protestors from gaining access to the area in front of the embassy. A drone was also flying over the perimeter.

“I take no pleasure in having to direct the police to intervene,” Dilliès said at the time, emphasising that although the protest had not been authorised it would be tolerated.

While a small buffer zone in the street in front of the embassy had been left free for the demonstrators, they abandoned it in an attempt to get closer to the embassy via another access route, but were blocked by police on Chaussée de Waterloo.

Clashes broke out between demonstrators and police in the buffer zone, with protestors hurling projectiles at police and police using a water cannon and tear gas to disperse the crowd. At least one protestor was seriously injured as a result.

Protestors then moved to Chaussée de Waterloo where their numbers swelled to close to 1,000 and an impromptu march began.

Police, surprised by the action, caught up and intervened to disperse the protestors at Porte de Namur by around 23.00. Three administrative arrests were made.

Dilliès told Bruzz that his decision to have the police intervene and deploy the water cannon had nothing to do with his judgement on the message of the protest, but everything to do with observing the law.

“Order must be respected at all times, regardless of beliefs and opinions,” he said.

“Additionally, the protest was not always peaceful: the action was partly hijacked by the far-left, who took the opportunity to confront the police. Anti-Semitic slogans and slogans were also heard.”

But human rights organisation Amnesty International reacted with concern to the response, calling for a thorough investigation into the incident.

“The violence used should always be proportionate to the resistance encountered – if the police use force, they should avoid injuring persons who passively resist,” the organisation said.

“In all cases, including situations of violence, dispersal should be a last resort, only when all other less intrusive means have proved ineffective. Protestors should be given the opportunity and time to disperse voluntarily.”

The Human Rights League also called on the commune of Uccle to “respect the right to demonstrate”.

“The fundamental right to demonstrate implies an obligation on the part of the public authorities to guarantee and facilitate demonstrations as long as they remain peaceful,” it said.

“In a democracy, the absence of a prior request can under no circumstances be used as a pretext for restricting citizens' peaceful public expression.

"[We are] urgently appealing to the local authorities in Brussels to respect the right to peaceful demonstration and to guarantee the right to public expression."

Photo: Hatim Kaghat/Belga

Written by Helen Lyons