Dutch justice minister vows Covid curfew rioters will be prosecuted

The Netherlands is facing its worst civil unrest in years.

Virus Outbreak Netherlands Riots
Virus Outbreak Netherlands Riots

The Dutch justice minister has said people arrested during three nights of rioting sparked by the country’s coronavirus curfew will face swift prosecution.

Ferd Grapperhaus said rioters would be quickly brought before courts by public prosecutors and face possible prison terms if convicted.

“They won’t get away with it,” he told reporters in The Hague.

His comments came as the Netherlands is facing its worst civil unrest in years, initially triggered by anger at the country’s tough lockdown, but increasingly fuelled by calls for rioting on social media.

The violence has stretched the police and led at times to the deployment of military police.

Mr Grapperhaus was speaking after a third night of rioting hit towns and cities, with the most serious clashes and looting of stores in the port city of Rotterdam and the southern cathedral city of Den Bosch.

“If you rob people who are struggling, with the help of the government, to keep their head above water, it’s totally scandalous,” he told reporters in The Hague. He stressed that the curfew is a necessary measure in the fight against coronavirus.

Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb posted a video message on Twitter, asking rioters: “Does it feel good to wake up with a bag full of stolen stuff next to you?”

He appealed to parents of the young rioters, asking: “Did you miss your son yesterday? Did you ask yourself where he was?”

The municipality in Den Bosch designated large parts of the city as risk areas for Tuesday night, fearing a repeat of the violence.

Virus Outbreak Netherlands Riots
A fire started by rioters in Haarlem (Mizzle Media/AP)

A total of 184 people were arrested in Monday night’s unrest and police ticketed more than 1,700 people for breaching the 9pm to 4.30am curfew.

The fine for the breaching the curfew is 95 euros (£84). Officers around the country also detained dozens suspected of inciting rioting through social media.

Police said rioters threw stones, fireworks and petrol bombs at officers.

“This criminal violence must stop,” prime minister Mark Rutte tweeted.

“The riots have nothing to do with protesting or struggling for freedom,” he added. “We must win the battle against the virus together, because that’s the only way of getting back our freedom.”

Residents in Den Bosch took to the streets on Tuesday to help with the clean-up as the city’s mayor said he would investigate authorities’ response to the rioting.

Virus Outbreak Netherlands
A burned-out coronavirus testing facility in the fishing village of Urk (Peter Dejong/AP)

The unrest began on Saturday night — the first night of the curfew — when youths in the fishing village of Urk torched a coronavirus testing centre. It escalated significantly with violence in the southern city of Eindhoven and the capital, Amsterdam.

Gerrit van der Burg, the country’s most senior public prosecutor, said in a statement on Monday that authorities were “committed to tracking down and prosecuting people who committed crimes. Count on it that they will be dealt with harshly”.

The rate of new infections in Netherlands has been decreasing in recent weeks, but the government is keeping up the tough lockdown, citing the slow pace of the decline and fears of new variants of the virus spreading quickly.

The country has registered more than 13,650 confirmed Covid-19 deaths.

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