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‘Limit or prohibit’ protests, says interior minister

19:08 15/06/2020

Federal interior minister Pieter De Crem (CD&V) has sent a letter to all of Belgium’s mayors and provincial councils directing them to limit – and reject if necessary – all requests to hold protest marches. The request follows recent protests around the country as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

De Crem pointed to federal regulations on gatherings in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. Currently, no more than 10 people may gather in groups.

He also reminded councils that protests are not absolute rights and must be approved by city councils. “I expressly ask you to limit the right to demonstrate in your municipality or to – if absolutely necessary – prohibit a demonstration,” the letter reads.

Brussels-City mayor Philippe Close faced criticism for not responding to the request to protest from Black Lives Matter organisers. The event on 7 June attracted some 10,000 people. While Close did not approve the request to protest, he also did not reject it, saying that the action would “be tolerated”.

De Crem noted that protests can be limited or prohibited if public order or safety is at risk. “It is essential to prevent an increase in coronavirus infections by taking necessary measures,” reads De Crem’s letter, “such as limiting social interactions, respecting social distancing and providing clear barrier signage.”

This means, he says, that “the right to protest must be limited in the interest of public health”. He suggests that local councils speak to protest organisers about “alternative ways to practice their right to free speech”.

Photo ©Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA

Written by Lisa Bradshaw