People in the Netherlands are reacting angrily to the trial of Abulkasim Al-Jaberi, a Dutch-Iraqi journalist who is facing up to five years in prison and a €20,000 fine under a century-old law which outlaws insulting the Dutch king.
Al-Jaberi, an anti-racism activist, was arrested last year, when he shouted at King Willem Alexander of the Netherlands using obscene words during a rally against a character in the traditional gift-giving festival of St.Nicholas, Black Pete (Zwarte Piet). In the Netherlands Black Pete has traditionally been considered to be a companion of St. Nicholas and is typically portrayed by an actor in blackface make up.
While some view the practice fun and its intentions peaceful, some activists find it racist and organise rallies against it. Dutch police arrested 90 protesters chanting “Black Pete is racism” in last year’s Black Pete rally after they surrounded the ceremonial area.
After his detainment in November, al-Jabari was charged under the “lese-majeste,” or “injured monarch” law.
The “injured monarch” law dates back to 1881 and carries the penalty of a five-year jail sentence or a fine for insulting members of the royal house.
Prosecutors previously offered al-Jaberi the chance to pay a €500 fine as an out of court settlement, but he refused. He was then summoned to court on May 27.
However, the Dutch public is now displaying anger against the case on social media, while a number of newspapers and parliament members have criticised the law as being “archaic.”
Al-Jaberi’s words were also spray-painted on the walls of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam.
After the reactions, prosecutors withdrew the Al-Jaberi’s case, although the charges have not been dropped.
A representative of Amsterdam Prosecutor's Office said that they did not expect such a reaction from the public.
“I was surprised by the emotional reaction, we didn't see this coming," he said.
Meanwhile, Al-Jaberi’s lawyer Willem Jebbink stressed the importance of the freedom of speech in the Netherlands.
“He was removed from the stage by police. The police and public prosecution department do not understand freedom of speech or freedom to demonstrate,” he said.