I have exercised the right to demonstrate ever since I was young. As a child of refugees, one learns to appreciate that sort of thing. As a law student, I’m privileged enough to also learn about my own rights during my studies. I remind myself of these rights before and during protest marches, both because I’m interested in them and to protect myself. I reminded myself of them before the ’Woonopstand’ (Housing Revolt: the demonstration for a different housing policy), too. Not because I assumed I would get arrested. After all, I was only going to express my approval or disapproval of something, and I do so without using any violence. However, I have learned that even peaceful protesters can find themselves in a police van, having been arrested.

The right to protest is a basic human right laid down in a European convention, an international convention and our own constitution. It is so important that, both before and during protest marches, the powers that be must do everything in their ability to allow everyone to express their opinions. This is a positive obligation. For instance, helping demonstrators find a place where they can stage their protest and ensure that roads are closed. They also have a negative obligation, which is to say that, in principle, protest marches cannot be prohibited1.

The great thing about a well-organised protest action is that the protesters are generally told what their rights are beforehand. The organisers often go so far as to ensure a lawyer is on stand-by to assist if anyone is arrested. In many cases, they will give protesters a crash course on the right to protest beforehand, as well. It’s sad that people need to prepare for these types of scenarios, but at the same time, it’s great when an organising committee provides this kind of service.

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Anyhow, back to the Housing Revolt. After the police had surrounded a group of protesters, it seemed as though many rights were no longer being upheld. A woman had fallen in the middle of the bridge, and she was unable to get up without help. Some protesters told us about her, and when I looked her way, I saw her lying on the bridge. The police would not allow us to pass to provide help, even after I pointed at my first aid vest. Instead of allowing us to do our job, the police pressed us the other way. Even though the entire bridge was full of people, we were pushed into the crowd, until we were packed like a can of sardines. “Why don’t you go and provide some assistance over there? They’ll soon be needing it, as well”, I was told. The very people who should be keeping the peace were the ones unnecessarily creating chaos.

Our right to housing is a constitutional right, just like our right to protest. As a law student and political animal, I will do my very best to protect these rights, much as my mother once protested for the things that mattered to her. I hated seeing how much violence was used against peaceful protesters during the Housing Revolt, to the point where I wasn’t sure I’d ever wish to exercise my right to protest again. However, three weeks later I went to Amsterdam to attend the Climate March. After all, I am my mother’s daughter, and I will keep attending protests until the world is a nicer place.

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Columnist Mina Morkoç is studying Law and Fiscal Law and is also involved in politics in…

  1. If you are interested in this subject, read Plattform Ärzte für das Leben/Austria ↩︎