One of the detainees says she suffered from wrist pain for several days after her arrest. She also says she was initially searched by three men, despite a female officer being nearby. Another had several bruises on her legs, according to her because policemen kicked her.

The twelve protesters were arrested on 9 May when they refused to leave the hall after two demands from the police, and remained ‘hooked in’ in a circle in front of the auditorium. Officers then dragged the twelve down stairs and through corridors to the back of the building, where two arrest vans were waiting. Most protesters remained ‘floppy’ during their arrest, out of passive resistance to their arrest.

Through the basement

occupyeur arrestaties erasmusgebouw mei 2023 foto Elmer (7)
Officers are preparing to arrest the group of remaining protesters. Image credit: Elmer Smaling

EUR student ‘Pjotr’ says he was the first to be taken out of the circle. In the process, officers twisted his wrist, he says. “Then we were not taken out through the front door, but through the basement. I found that very strange.” He was afraid that the officers would carry him off out of sight of bystanders, so that they could no longer keep an eye on exactly what was happening.

Because the arrestees were taken away through different corridors in the basement of the Erasmus building, it was impossible for a legal observer and journalists present to observe all the arrests. “In the basement, the officers said they were going to hurt me very badly if I did not cooperate. One officer tried to grab my thumb. I tried to keep the thumb in my fist so he couldn’t grab it. You might call that resisting, but I absolutely did not resist the arrest.”

Passive resistance

Officers are not allowed to use force as long as an arrestee does not actively resist. An arrestee does not have to actively cooperate with his arrest. A well-known tactic of protesters is to remain ‘floppy’ during their arrest, to make it as difficult as possible for officers to take them away.

Amnesty International does not want to pass judgment on individual cases, but according to the human rights organisation, police violence can be justified if someone actively resists arrest. “But only if the force does not go beyond what is necessary and proportionate”, writes an Amnesty spokesperson. “The police have an obligation to de-escalate and, moreover, must give warning before resorting to force. Police violence must always serve a lawful purpose. Violence to force a confession or to ‘teach a lesson’ to an arrestee is prohibited.”

Wrist clamp

‘Alice’, also a EUR student, says she still could not use the computer mouse a few days after the arrest, so much pain was in her wrist. Officers used a wrist clamp during her arrest, which the police themselves consider violence. This puts the arrestee’s full weight on the wrists when being dragged away, which can break the wrist if she resists. “I remained floppy all the time, and I think they found that very irritating. They kept giving me kicks with their knees in my side and on my hip, very unnecessarily.” Alice was then searched by three men. “Only halfway through they asked a female colleague to join them.” Detainees should be searched by someone of the same sex, as far as possible. “They also have to search between your legs, and instead of pushing the legs apart by hand, they kicked my shins hard”, says Alice.

‘Elli’, a fourth EUR student, had a similar experience to Alice. She was also carried off with the wrist clamp. “And when the officers dragged me down the corridor by my hands, they overstretched my arms. While I was already in a lot of pain in my wrist.”

Thrown against the wall

Another EUR student who calls herself Juno says she was hit on her nose and on her neck when officers tried to pull the group apart, probably by body parts of protesters sitting next to her. While being searched in the corridor, out of sight of observers, she was hit on her back by an officer, she claims.

A 17-year-old schoolgirl named ‘Brynn’ was also arrested. She had herself dragged down the stairs as well, which badly hurt her knees, she says. “I didn’t know they were going to search me, but they suddenly threw me against a wall”, she says. It all happened so fast that Brynn did not know by whom she was searched and whether an observer could be watching. Later, footage taken showed that two men and a woman were involved. Photos showed that Brynn’s legs were covered in bruises.

EM was able to verify parts of the protesters’ statements using own observation, a city councillor present as a legal observer, photographs and video footage. In the case of the violent incidents, it was largely impossible to verify because those took place outside the field of vision of journalists and the councillor present.

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The arrestees’ allegations were shared with the Rotterdam police for comments. According to a spokesperson, the group of students decided to remain hooked in after police ordered them to leave the building several times. “This was a conscious decision while they knew violence was going to be used. Violence is using more than little force to achieve a goal. Unfortunately, because the students remained seated, we were forced to remove them. To this they did not cooperate. We used more than little force to carry out EUR’s demand to leave the building.”

On individual incidents, the police spokesperson would not comment: “We have not as yet spoken to the individuals you cite. Besides that, we do not agree with the allegations. If any concerned person has questions or a complaint about our actions they can contact us.”  The Occupy people didn’t do so because they didn’t want to reveal their identities to the police.

EM spoke to five of the twelve detainees, four of whom study at Erasmus University. The fifth detainee is a middle school student. The protesters wish to remain anonymous and therefore appear in the article with their activist names; their real names are known to the editors.