A story today in De Telegraaf and elsewhere about the start of a case in which the Dutch police are pressing charges against a guy for "assaulting" their reputation.
The defendant, Dénis van Vliet, designed and wore a t-shirt (above) that used the police logo and style, but substituted the word "Corrupt," for "police."
Yes, insulting a police officer in the Netherlands is not just a bad idea (as it is everywhere), it's actually against the law.
I've posted previously about one case where a guy who gave the finger to the police and was convicted. And other about a guy who called a cop a "homo" and was convicted: his defense was, how can a "homo" be an insult, when under a politically correct legal system, it should be a neutral remark about someone's sex preference?
I've also posted quite a bit about freedom of speech, and how the right to say what you think fundamentally includes the right to insult. Call it the Theo van Gogh argument, or the John Stuart Mill argument.
I accept there must be some limits to freedom of speech _ clearly in the case of shouting "fire" in a crowded theater or directly inciting violence.
My mind is somewhat muddied about hate speech _ I hate it, but I doubt that banning racists and holocaust deniers from speaking is either effective or wise.
But I'm definitely opposed to this law that gives a special status to two groups in the Netherlands: police and the royal house, making it a criminal offense to insult them (and nobody else, though people can sue in civil courts for reputation damage).
Frankly, powerful people must be insulted, in my view.
Police have the monopoly on legal violence under our system, and that makes them powerful.
The Queen can't be insulted on the theory that she is powerless to reply, under the Dutch political system. In my view, she is powerful enough to both merit insult, and to be able to defend herself sufficiently.
In the current "Corrupt" case, the police may or may not actually find the T-shirt insulting, but it is certainly legitimate and even very important political speech.
One of my first posts on this blog was about how there appears to be a serious problem with corruption within the Amsterdam police force, and how scary that is.
Imagine: you are being harassed by a criminal. You go to the police for help. The police immediately call the criminal to tell him.
The criminal has you killed in order to intimidate others.
That's what appears to have actually happened in Amsterdam in the Willem Endstra case. And that may be just the tip of the iceburg.
I'm still waiting to hear about what happened with the squatters who put up banners with the text "Rita Verdonk, Murderer" in 2005 and cops went in and seized them.
Verdonk was then immigration minister carrying out a major crackdown on illegal immigrants when fire broke out at a prison and killed 11 detainees. These were people guilty of nothing but entering the Netherlands illegally.
If calling her a "murderer" in that context isn't important political speech, challenging controversial policies (that were later found to violate human rights laws) _ then what is?
To their credit, the squatters put up posters of "Rita Miller" instead. The word for "miller," molenaar, closely resembles the word for murderer in Dutch, moordenaar.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008