Court con­victs 34 for block­ing protesters

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - WORLD -

THE HAGUE, Nether­lands — A court in the Nether­lands con­victed 34 peo­ple Fri­day for block­ing a high­way to pre­vent anti-racism demon­stra­tors from protest­ing at a fes­tive pa­rade fea­tur­ing the Dutch ver­sion of Santa Claus — and his helpers, called Black Petes.

Black Pete is of­ten played by white peo­ple with their faces daubed in dark makeup. He has been at the cen­tre of fierce de­bate for years be­tween sup­port­ers who see him as a tra­di­tional chil­dren’s char­ac­ter and op­po­nents who de­cry him as a racist stereo­type.

Those con­victed were or­dered to do un­paid com­mu­nity work and the ring­leader was given a sus­pended one-month prison sen­tence. The court in the north­ern city of Leeuwar­den said in a state­ment that by block­ing the high­way last year, they “took the law into their own hands” to in­fringe protesters’ con­sti­tu­tional right to demon­strate.

Lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the an­tiracism demon­stra­tors wel­comed the rul­ing, say­ing in a writ­ten state­ment that it “sent a sig­nal that cit­i­zens in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety can­not play judge.”

The rul­ing came just over a week be­fore this year’s na­tion­ally tele­vised pa­rade to wel­come the Dutch char­ac­ter Sin­terk­laas to the coun­try for a fes­tive pe­riod that ends on Dec. 5 when fam­i­lies tra­di­tion­ally ex­change gifts.

Smaller Sin­terk­laas pa­rades are sched­uled across the coun­try next week­end and protests both for and against Black Pete are ex­pected at a hand­ful of them. The As­so­ci­ated Press

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Peo­ple line the road to watch the ar­rival of Sin­terk­laas, the Dutch ver­sion of Santa Claus, and his black­face side­kicks Black Pete, in Am­s­ter­dam, Nether­lands, on Nov. 17, 2013.

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