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Dutch court orders gov’t to lift COVID curfew

By AFP - Feb 16,2021 - Last updated at Feb 16,2021

THE HAGUE — A Dutch court on Tuesday told the government to immediately lift a nationwide coronavirus curfew that sparked the worst riots in The Netherlands for decades.

The government wrongly used emergency powers to bring in the first curfew since the Nazi occupation in World War II, a judge at The Hague district court ruled.

The case was launched by the Viruswaarheid (Virus Truth) group, which has led a series of protests against coronavirus measures in The Netherlands.

"The curfew must be lifted immediately," the court said in a statement.

"The curfew is a far-reaching violation of the right to freedom of movement and privacy."

The Dutch government swiftly challenged the decision to lift the 9:00 pm to 4:30 am curfew, and the court of appeal was due to hear the case at 15:00 GMT on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte called on people to "keep respecting the curfew" even if the appeal failed.

"If the curfew was not based on the correct legal basis at this time... that does not mean that this measure is not necessary," Rutte told a news conference.


'People feel liberated' 


Viruswaarheid group founder Willem Engel — a dancing teacher whose social media posts raise questions about vaccines and the origins of coronavirus — hailed the ruling.

"I've had hundreds, thousands of messages of congratulations. People are very happy, they feel liberated," Engel told AFP.

"Of course we're not there yet, we have many more steps to go, but I think that there will be some joyful demonstrations here and there this evening."

The curfew began on January 23 and was extended last week until March 2.

Three nights of riots erupted on the weekend it started with police using water cannon and tear gas against protesters in cities including Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Eindhoven.

They were the most serious riots in The Netherlands for 40 years and led to dozens of arrests.

The Netherlands remains under its tightest restrictions since the start of the pandemic, with all non-essential shops, bars, restaurants and secondary schools closed.

The curfew ruling comes as a blow to Rutte's government ahead of elections on March 17. His Cabinet is currently operating in a caretaker capacity after resigning in January over a child benefits scandal.

The court said that the government "did not invoke the special urgency required" to use the emergency laws that it employed to bring in the curfew without going through the lower and upper houses of parliament.

Curfews were for use in sudden emergencies such as a dyke breach, the judge said.

"Therefore, the use of this law to impose a curfew is not legitimate," the court said.


'Freedom to go outside' 


Views in The Netherlands were mixed on the decision.

"Everybody's happy, I saw internet exploding with happy people because there's really no reason for a curfew," Alexandra Vos, Dutch owner of a coaching company, told AFP in The Hague.

Dutch student Laura Baseler said however that with a variant first found in Britain now circulating in the Netherlands, she backed the restrictions.

"I understand that some people want the curfew gone but I kind of follow the government," she said.

The populist Forum for Democracy Party led by eurosceptic politician Thierry Baudet however welcomed the court's decision, tweeting: "The freedom to go outside is a fundamental right."

Viruswaarheid was formerly known as "Viruswaanzin" (Virus Madness), and in addition to protests it also holds regular live Q&A sessions via Zoom, that are published on Facebook and YouTube.

Engel has become one of The Netherlands' most influential actors against coronavirus restrictions.

Engel has said on social media that the current situation in The Netherlands is a "dictatorship" and claims without evidence that the recent riots were orchestrated by an "intelligence agency" so that the government could call the army in.

His social media posts also query whether coronavirus was created in a lab, describe a so-called British strain of the virus as a "hoax", and say COVID-19 vaccinations are "probably not working".


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