Last Saturday hundreds of climate activists associated with Extinction Rebellion were arrested by Dutch police following their blockade of the A12 motorway. However, the motorway blockades perpetrated by farmers see close to zero arrests – and if arrests do take place, this often happens after the protests have already ended.
On Saturday more than 1200 activists took to the streets in The Hague and blocked off the A12 motorway. “Extinction Rebellion demands an immediate end to the annual 17.5 billion euros in fossil fuel subsidies. This is the fifth demonstration on the A12 to reinforce this demand,” says Sebastiaan Vanisselroy, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion.
According to NOS 768 climate activists were arrested last Saturday. All arrested people were placed under a 90-day restraining order preventing them from going back to the A12.
“With these restraining orders, the Public Prosecutor is stripping climate activists of their right to demonstrate. Our legal system stipulates that only the mayor may restrict that right. Therefore the Public Prosecutor is acting outside of his remit,” says Willem Jebbink, a lawyer specialized in human rights.
Farmer protesters don’t have to deal with these issues. According to the Volkskrant, within the last three years more than 2000 Extinction Rebellion protesters have been arrested, whereas less than 100 farmers were arrested, even though they have had nearly twice the amount of demonstrations that Extinction Rebellion has had.
However, this data doesn’t count farmers that have been arrested after protests have concluded. A little less than a hundred farmers were arrested following the motorway blockades last summer, and over 700 fines were handed out. The only time farmer protesters were arrested in mass was in July 2020 shortly after the government banned the use of tractors in protests.
‘Risk of escalation’
This does beg the question, why are farmers being reprimanded after as opposed to during the protests? Much of it has to do with how the groups behave differently. “XR actions are by definition non-violent. A blockade of tractors, tractors entering a provincial house and the dumping of manure, straw and asbestos on the highway do not give the same impression. Such actions appear intimidating and the risk of escalation is greater,” says Gijs Voskes, spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion.
“Precisely because XR activists adopt a passive attitude (e.g. by going ‘floppy’) the police can intervene. In the case of tractors, of which it’s not clear how they will proceed, this is less simple and action afterwards is seen as a safer option. So intimidation works,” says Voskes.
Protests are a bone of contention
Public opinion on the two protest groups seems divided though. A vox pop video by Roel Maalderink shows that Dutch people think farmers should be able to protest without any consequences, but they also believe that climate activists shouldn’t be allowed to protest. However, this support for farmers is also slowly declining according to NOS.
Following their fifth demonstration on the A12, Extinction Rebellion has announced that they will be back in full force on the A12 for their sixth demonstration on Saturday, March 11th, at 12 o’ clock.
The Groningen Observer reached out to the police by phone for their take on the situation, but they refused to make any comments. We also tried reaching them by email, but we’ve yet to hear anything back from them.