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anarchokrant10 juli 2024

Leiden Canal Pride – Why the Municipality Did Not Provide an Objective Answer About Police Violence

Author: | GEPLAATST DOOR: De Anarchokrant | Bron:

On Saturday, September 2nd of last year, during Leiden Pride, queer activists were driven away and enclosed in the morning, and beaten by the police in the afternoon. The following week, the mayor lied about this in the city council, where five people spoke out about the police violence. This prompted Leiden activists, including those from Doorbraak who were present at both protests, to investigate the police violence and the underlying decision-making processes of both the municipality and the police. Why were peaceful LGBTQIA+ activists excluded from a Pride that should also be for them? How could it be that critique was silenced and queer people were beaten and arrested at Pride? And how can the municipality look back on that day with satisfaction?

Original text in Dutch. Originele Nederlandse tekst,

To investigate what happened within the municipality and the police, we initiated a WOO-procedure (see box below) and requested documents from both. The documents we received from the municipality confirm that they are more concerned with their own image than with understanding what Pride actually is or should be, let alone that they would delve into what happened on the bridge that day, and what that means in the context of Pride. Our investigation shows, among other things, that the municipality had already anticipated that the police would intervene against us. Even after we posted our testimonies about police violence online – Testimonies that officials and government leaders definitely noticed, as evidenced by the documents – and the speakers shared their experiences with the city council, the municipality remained indifferent.

Clearly, the municipality believes it has the right to decide where activists can stand and what we do. Last year this meant that queer people at Pride were not allowed to stand at the site of their choosing, could not display a banner against capitalism, and could be forcibly removed because the “festivities” should not be “disturbed.” The Pride in Leiden was not for the entire queer community. The celebration of “being yourself” did not apply to everyone. This was painfully made clear by the municipality of Leiden. At the same time, it made the necessity for such a protest even more prevalent.

The Municipality-Police-Public Prosecutor Triangle

In the documents provided by the municpality, we can see how the Pride event and the announced demonstrations were prepared for by the municipality. For example, we see that on Friday, September 1st, on the day before Pride, while preparations were in full swing, two additional triangle meetings were scheduled. Not a pink triangle, but a municipality-police-public prosecutor triangle. At 9:30 AM and 8:00 PM, and they were entirely devoted to the demonstrations. Since all names, except for Mayor Peter van der Velden, are anonymised in the documents, we cannot see who else was present at these meetings. But they are normally attended by representatives of the municipality, the police, and the public prosecutor, who together discuss “the police’s task performance and the policy regarding the task performance,” as stated in the law. It is not unusual for demonstrations to be discussed in a triangle meeting. And since on the day of Pride, in the morning, there was both an announced demonstration from the far right against the drag queen story hour by Dina Diamond, and a demonstration in support of the story hour by Doorbraak, it is understandable that the municipality would have a meeting about it. “The main fear is that public order disturbances will occur during the story hour between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators, which would affect the children attending the story hour,” we read in the minutes. “The public prosecutor [name anonymized by the municipality] mentions Rotterdam as an example where earlier this year a similar event had to be moved up due to fear of public order disturbances.”

We are aware that the municipality took measures last year. For example, on the day of Pride, around 8:30 AM, they published an emergency ordinance about an hour and a half before the demonstration. The text read: “It is prohibited for anyone who manifests themselves through vehicle(s), clothing, equipment, carried objects, or behavior as (potential) participants in activities, whether or not in groups, with the apparent intention of disturbing public order, to be present in a public or publicly accessible place in the designated area, as shown on the attached map Nieuwstraat, from September 2, 2023, 9:00 AM to September 2, 2023, 1:00 PM.”

In the report of the triangle meeting from the day before, we read that “Mayor Van der Velden’s guiding principle is that the story hour for the children should proceed peacefully.” But why, we wonder, are opponents placed right next to the entrance of the library, while they show up with hateful banners about sexual indoctrination, hoping to deter parents and children from entering the library? While our demonstration, that foregrounds inclusion and love, is put around the corner, in a square a street and a half away?

Ominous Ellipses

The documents show that the municipality initially planned to allow our demonstration next to the library and place the far-right further away. However, as we read in an internal email from the day before Pride, at the insistence of the police “the groups actually need to be switched at the library.” The internal notes from municipal officials for the oral answering of council questions afterward (more on this later) provide a clearer answer as to why who was placed where: “When asked about it: the supporters had called to gather at the Hooglandse Kerk. Because we did not want to mix the groups, it was decided to position them close to their original gathering place.” Something to keep in mind when publicly calling for an unregistered demonstration.

Due to these demonstrations on the morning of Pride, which the municipality thus suspected in advance to be possible causes of social unrest, the municipality created a communication strategy two days beforehand. This strategy was likely a guideline to quickly answer questions from the press and others. Initially, this communication strategy only addressed the story hour and the protests related to it. However, on the day before Pride, the mayor’s spokesperson, who is also the communications advisor, sent a version that included a paragraph about the anti-capitalist bloc organized by Queer Pride March Leiden on the bridge. It began with the heading: “Communication Strategy – intervention in Queer March demonstration.” The text spoke about “ensuring our safety”, continuing with “to ensure that the Canal Parade could proceed festively and without disturbance.” The announced protest was thus seen as a disturbance to Pride, rather than as the core of the event, as it should be.

The municipality wrote about the demonstration that was to take place the next day: “When the demonstrators gathered on the Catharinabrug this afternoon, they were informed on the spot that they had to move to the Stille Rijn. Unfortunately, some individuals did not comply and remained on the Catharinabrug. These individuals were therefore…” At this point, the guideline breaks off. 

This ominous ellipsis foreshadows what awaited us that day. The mayor’s spokesperson had already advocated for police intervention to remove queer demonstrators from the bridge in advance, so that the Canal Parade would not experience any “disturbance.” It is important to understand that the amount of police deployed on the day itself significantly increased the risk of violence against demonstrators. The evening before, on September 1 at 11:06 PM, Mayor Van der Velden himself wrote about the communication proposals: “A good support! And very clear!!” With such a biased view of the demonstration from the mayor, and this limited administrative perspective on what Pride should entail, it is not surprising that we were beaten for wanting to give expression to a diversity of perspectives.

Not Disturbing the Party

This is not just any day; it’s Pride. It is a day of claiming space by the LGBTQIA+ community. Claiming space by queer people who, throughout history and to this day, have often been excluded, persecuted, imprisoned, and even murdered. This oppression is initiated and/or approved by authorities everywhere, often with the police as violent enforcers. Pride began as a protest, is a protest, not just a celebration. Pride started as an uprising against police violence. So, what business does the police have at a Pride? It is crucial to understand this context if you want to grasp the true significance of queer people being beaten by police at Leiden Pride while they were trying to demonstrate. It is therefore all the more troubling to read in the documents that the municipality was already anticipating this violence and the restriction of our protest.

Restrictions on Demonstration Rights on September 2, 2023
Read our report of that day.

In the morning
1. Demonstrators were not allowed to stand in their chosen location and were moved to an invisible spot
2. Demonstrators were enclosed in a side alley of a shopping street and had to put away all banners and Pride flags to proceed, during a Pride and while that street was adorned with flags; queer people felt the police were trying to force them back into the closet
3. All passersby at the library who looked queer were sent away based on the emergency ordinance;

In the afternoon
4. Demonstrators were not allowed to stand in their chosen location
5. Without warning, demonstrators were beaten with batons
6. The banner was confiscated
7. No reason was given why the banner couldn’t be displayed or why they couldn’t remain on the bridge
8. One officer could not control himself and hit so wildly that his colleagues had to pull him away
9. A demonstrator was arrested without reason
10. Demonstrators were moved to a designated demonstration area where they were almost invisible except to direct bystanders and enclosed by a line of police officers
11. There was a continuous threat of violence against peaceful demonstrators
12. Demonstrators were not allowed to leave the area, even if they wanted to leave Pride
13. Anyone who dared to voice critique was directed to this area, even if they had not previously joined the protest
14. If bystanders got angry and a demonstrator commented, the bystander was not addressed, but the demonstrator was violently arrested
15. As soon as the boats passed by, the demonstrators’ megaphone was confiscated, making them barely audible
16. The line of police officers around the demonstrators prevented free contact with bystanders
17. The police demanded a list of names of people who wanted to demonstrate later that day (which the demonstrators did not provide)
18. Only after the boat parade were demonstrators allowed to leave, but they were again not allowed to carry visible protest signs, and were again required to put away their Pride flags
19. The authorities exhausted the demonstrators to the point that it was no longer possible to carry out the other two protests planned for that day
20. One arrestee was deprived of her freedom for hours, the other for days.

Let’s take a look at what happened on the bridge, according to the municipality. Last year, we already noted that the mayor lied about this in the city council. Now that we have the documents, we can observe what happened internally. According to the municipality’s version, the police requested and/or ordered us to move from the bridge to a “demonstration area” painted by the municipality on the sidewalk. This is repeated in most of the documents we received. For those not present on the bridge, it likely seems clear-cut. But we were there, and we know the municipality’s story is not true. A brief recap: we took out our banner, and the officers immediately started pulling on it. We asked why, and they started hitting. There was no warning, no order, no explanation, only immediate violence.

Why is it important to argue whether or not an order was given by the police? The municipality should not have prohibited us from standing on that bridge because we had every right to claim a visible spot for our protest. But the argument the municipality uses to justify the violence we faced is that, legally, an authorized order given by a police officer must be followed (we will return to the question of whether an order in this situation could actually be “authorized”). If we had complied obediently, there would have been no violence, according to the municipality’s reasoning. But if no order was given, then there was nothing to “comply” with.

Additionally, an order is not just a command but also a warning. Theoretically, from the moment an order is given, there is a time frame, however short in practice, in which there is a choice to comply with the order. If no order was given, as was the case on September 2, you unexpectedly find yourself in a situation where violence is used against you. The participants in the protest, including ourselves, suddenly found ourselves in a situation of being pushed and beaten with metal batons. We had no choice— it happened in the blink of an eye.

Now that we have the documents, we can read the source of the municipality’s lie that an order was given. It originates from the police report of Pride, which was sent to the municipality that same evening of Saturday, September 2, shortly after 8:00 PM. The police wrote: “Around 3:30 PM, a group of about 40 leftist anti-capitalist demonstrators were protesting on the Catharinabrug with a banner. To restore public order, the demonstrators were ordered to leave and move to the designated and nearby demonstration area on the Stille Rijn. Since they initially did not comply, several police officers used (mostly light) force.”

Police Eyes

How this report came about is something we have been unable to determine, as the police have been refusing to disclose documents for half a year now (see box). Only recently have they released a few documents, which actually raise more questions about this issue. Through the minutes provided by the Large-Scale and Special Operations Staff, we can follow the entire day through police eyes. Starting at 9:00 am, there’s an almost hourly briefing with updates on the situation. At 3:00 pm, the police write: “crowded in the city but not with target groups.” At 4:00 pm: “Scuffle on the Catharinabrug, a banner was hung, and the demonstrators refused to move towards the designated nearby demonstration area (Stille Rijn).” It also mentions the two arrests. Notably, there is no mention here of a command issued, which could have provided legal grounds for police action. In subsequent meetings at 5:00 pm, 6:30 pm, and 7:15 pm, there is also no mention of a command. These meetings address the situation in the city at those respective times.

Course of the Woo-Procedure

On October 2, 2023, we submitted a request to the municipality and police for the disclosure of information regarding the measures around demonstrations and safety at Pride, as well as documents related to evaluations and other retrospectives. This request was made under the Government Information Public Access Act (Woo). Public authorities have four weeks to respond to the request, during which they must disclose everything that is not subject to an exemption. The deadline can be extended once for another four weeks. You can appeal the decision. In the absence of a decision, you can go to court. After an appeal, you may also proceed to an appeal and a higher appeal. Read more about how the Woo works here.

The municipality of Leiden sent us some documents on December 8, to which we objected because not all documents were provided, and the coherence of the emails and attachments could not be well established. During the appeal process, we received two more sets of documents. A decision on our objection has since been made. At the time of writing this article, we have not yet decided whether to appeal.

The police promised to make a decision on the delivery of documents by the end of 2023, but we heard nothing from them. We then filed an appeal with the court for “failure to decide.” On April 8, 2024, the court ruled that the police must make a decision within two weeks under penalty of a fine. As of the writing of this article, some documents have recently been made public. However, there are still more documents that the police have announced but not yet provided, eight months after the request.

In a chat on September 2, between a police officer present at these hourly briefings and an anonymous other, the police officer writes at 7:01 pm: “The reports have been shared with OZ Leiden (sic).” At 7:53 pm: “Brief summary of GP Leiden (area-specific police; red). […] Around 3:30 pm: demo of about 40 left-wing anti-capitalist demonstrators on the Catharinabrug. Ordered to remove themselves.” So at 7:00 pm, reports were shared, and an hour later, the command is suddenly mentioned in the summary. Is it the officers on site who wrote this in their individual reports?

The question remains: on what grounds could the police actually order this? While we were on the bridge and pushed and beaten, we repeatedly asked on what basis the police intervened. The emergency ordinance published that morning for the reading hour was only valid until 1:00 pm and moreover, the Catharinabrug was outside its area.

Meanwhile, through our research, we have learned that the municipality had made “designation decisions” for all announced demonstrations in the center. Such a designation decision outlines the framework within which the municipality wants your demonstration to take place. Objections and a trip to the court through an expedited procedure are available against such decisions. In the decision regarding the Catharinabrug demonstration, which we came across in our research, among other things, the mayor decides that our demonstration “may only take place in the designated demonstration area at Stille Rijn in Leiden. In addition, all participants are obliged to immediately and punctually follow all instructions from the police and the (enforcement) officials of the municipality.” The police would “in all cases act as de-escalating as possible,” but “will intervene in any case if one or more provisions as included in this decision are not complied with. This can result in the termination of the demonstration/rally.”

The municipality had also prepared a state of emergency to completely ban the demonstrations. But they didn’t use it.

Scrap of Paper

The municipality drafted a letter with all the mentioned conditions addressed to Queer Pride March Leiden for the demonstration on the Catharinabrug. However, this letter never reached the organization — which is strange. We did find an attempt at reaching out by the municipality ”so as to make possible arrangements and to see where we as a municipality can still have a facilitating role” from prior to the event via Instagram, but the Pride organization did not respond. We did not find such a message about announcing the designation decision, however. It’s reasonable to expect the municipality to at least attempt to deliver such an important letter. During our Woo procedure, we therefore asked for the final and sent letter, but a representative of the municipality stated that there is no final version, because the letter had apparently never been sent. And that wouldn’t have been possible either, because from the timestamp of the documents we can deduce that the final decision was only made on September 2, just before 12:00 pm, about three and a half hours before we were beaten off the bridge.

Before a decision “comes into effect,” it must be promulgated, as stated in the law. Otherwise, it remains just a scrap of paper, a meaningless file in a municipal computer, which cannot be expected to be adhered to by demonstrators. The emergency ordinance was published in the morning, only an hour and a half before the protest. But the decision was never made public in any way— it was not sent to the demonstration organizers, nor shared via social media or any other means. So how could the demonstrators have known about it and taken it into account? It is not only reprehensible that no warning was given before “enforcement” was carried out. The demonstrators were also denied the opportunity to lodge an appeal, which is not indicative of good governance. Moreover, and importantly, a decision that has not been announced has no legal force— in other words: it is not valid. Therefore, the police cannot base their actions on this decision. In other words, even if an order had been given by the police, it would have been an unauthorized order, and refusing to comply with it would not be punishable.

Meanwhile, the documents state that the decision was indeed announced. It was allegedly handed over on site, as was written by officials whose identities where not revealed to us , on Thursday, September 7 — so afterwards — in a document that Mayor Van der Velden signed on September 26. Once again, there was no request for us to move, no decree. No papers were handed over. It was not even known to us, before we began our investigation, that there was a decision. Not once did the police on the bridge refer to it to justify their actions. They did not answer our questions, and those who asked them received an extra blow from the baton. Moreover, there is no other document at the municipality, no report, nothing, stating that the papers were handed out. Officials write that the decision was announced simply because it should have been, not because it actually had been announced. The municipality legally solidifies its actions, and that is how it will be recorded in history. However, once again, it is a lie. With this article, we counter this fabricated sequence of events with a substantiated sequence of our own. 

Close Collaboration

On the evening of Pride, we posted a report on our website, in which we wrote: “At the bridge, when about thirty of us arrived, more than twenty officers had already gathered, and as soon as we unfurled the banner, they became extremely violent. They struck us without any warning, and then we were driven towards another ‘area’, several meters from the water’s edge: a yellow box in which we could barely fit.” On YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter, we posted multiple posts and videos on the day itself and in the days thereafter, providing eyewitness accounts of the violence and calling on the municipality to respond.

On Monday morning, September 4, as we can now read in the documents, GroenLinks and PvdA [political parties, red.] announced council questions, which they sent that same evening. The questions would be posed at the committee meeting on Thursday evening, September 7th, where our comrades would also speak out about police violence. From the questions, and later also from discussions held between speakers at the committee meeting and the respective council members, it appears that the facts were not yet entirely clear to the municipal council. The questions mainly concern the demonstrations during drag queen Dina Diamond’s storytelling hour, not the demonstration at the Catharinabrug.

On Tuesday, September 5th, the Safety Team Coordinator started working on the council questions. The council members’ lack of being informed made the work of figuring out the answers to these questions an easy task— the team coordinator could leave out accounting for the police violence on the Catharinabrug, except for the question of how the mayor assessed the “approach of the police towards both groups,” and whether “the mayor finds the police intervention proportionate.”

The initial version of the response contains no reference to a police order: “In the afternoon during the boat parade, public order was disturbed by demonstrators, and with the least possible use of force compliance with the mayor’s instructions was ensured (demonstrating is allowed in a designated demonstration area along the route).”

Two and a half hours later, “after consultation,” – we cannot verify with whom this consultation took place – the order suddenly appeared in the text: “In the afternoon during the boat parade, there was no compliance with the request to move to the demonstration area, and this was also not done after an order was given. With the least possible use of force, compliance with the mayor’s instructions was ensured (demonstrating is allowed in a designated demonstration area along the route).”

After the questions were orally answered by the mayor on September 7 in the council, the team coordinator sent the final answer to the police on Friday, September 8, with the sole explanation being: “Hereby, we will be in touch.”  You don’t send e-mails like this if you haven’t had prior contact regarding these questions. 

Correspondence between the police and the municipality in the days following Pride was also maintained at another level. The documents indicate a close cooperation in responding to inquiries from local media. Early Monday morning, September 4, the mayor’s spokesperson receives an email from university magazine Mare: “I would like to talk to you about the presence of police at this event, and I am curious about, among other things, what instructions the police officers have received.” Within a few minutes, the spokesperson replies that Mare should contact the police on this matter. The police, having already received a similar email from Mare, sends a draft of their response to the mayor’s spokesperson half an hour later. The spokesperson, in turn, sends the draft of the municipal response to the police after another half an hour. Only then does the municipality send an email to Mare, announcing that they will provide a response at a later time. This response is sent out two hours later, with a bcc to the police.

That same afternoon, this process is repeated with the questions from Sleutelstad. “Here are 4 press questions from Sleutelstad. Shall we adopt the same strategy as with the questions from the university weekly Mare?” writes the mayor’s spokesperson to the police. “Then you will in fact answer the 4 questions (see below). And I will send the following as a general statement separately from you.” Two minutes later, the spokesperson informs Sleutelstad that the municipality will provide a statement at a later time, although it had thus already been prepared by that point. An hour later, the municipality gets to see the police’s answers, and two hours later they send out their statement, followed immediately by an email to the police indicating that the statement has been sent. The next day, on Sept. 5, the police emailed the municipality to thank them for “the coordination and cooperation.” The spokesperson replies, “Glad that you were also as available and actively contributed!”

Self-Serving (*)

There’s another reason this exchange of emails about the questions is interesting. Sleutelstad asks: “Protestants (sic) from the anti-capitalist counter-protest claim to have been confronted with police violence. Did the police use violence against demonstrators during the event? If so, what was the nature of this violence, and what was the reason for it.” To which the police respond: “There was a very brief us* of measured violence and use of batons.” The police do not address the reason behind the violence at all. This does not pose a concern for Sleutelstad, and they publish the answer without further questions, albeit with a typo.

(Translation of the beginning of the article: During Pride Leiden last Saturday, two people have been arrested. The arrests took place among demonstrators from Queer Pride March, who thought the event was too commercial. Participants to the protest accused the police of police violence. A spokesperson from the police says about this: “There was a very brief used** of measured violence and use of batons.”) (**)

This quote from the police about the violence, including the typo, is repeated verbatim in the “overview of facts” by the mayor’s spokesperson on Friday, September 8, after several activists testified about police violence in the city council. That same day, this overview is distributed to all members of the B&W [board of mayor and aldermen, red.]. According to the municipality, the “facts” also include that the demonstrators were asked to move. “Subsequently, some demonstrators did not comply with requests to leave the bridge. This led to very brief us* of measured violence and use of batons.”

On September 7, two of our speakers present sixteen questions to the municipality. They receive a response from the mayor on October 12. In the intervening period, the aforementioned Safety team coordinator submitted the questions to the police. On September 10, they email several police contacts questions such as: “Was it made clear to the demonstrators under which legislation they had to move?”, “Did officers make their badge numbers known when asked?” 

This shows that eight days after the police violence, the mayor, who is responsible for police action, still had not independently investigated whether the valid legal framework had been adhered to by the police. We are not aware of what the police have answered to the questions. But it is clear that the questions, which highlighted the violence, were answered in part by the perpetrators of the assault. And of course, this smells of an investigation of the self-serving kind.

One-sided conditions

The amount of restrictions imposed on us on Pride day is truly excessive (see box). Allowing the police to hit demonstrators simply because they did not register their protest is unacceptable. Last year, in our report on the city council meeting, we wrote about Mayor Van der Velden: “The police’s experience, however, is taken as the objective reality, and our ‘experience’ is dismissed as subjective.” This is further demonstrated by the documents we have obtained from the municipality. The municipality and the police are extensions of each other. This is not surprising when you consider that the mayor is responsible for maintaining public order, and the police serve as his right hand. Criticizing police action would therefore mean criticizing oneself. And Van der Velden was certainly not willing to do that.

No- the mayor is satisfied with pointing out to activists [of is : accusing activists of beter ? ] that they didn’t register their demonstration, as if this gives the police a license for violence. Throughout the documents, it becomes clear how he thinks things should actually go: “engaging in dialogue” and “making agreements”. It might be true that municipalities find human rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly “troublesome”. But these rules are designed to protect people against the state – not the other way around. Because we’re dealing with unequal power dynamics here. A municipality might find us activists annoying, but they’re still obligated to facilitate a protest as much as possible, even if it’s not registered. Restrictions on protests must be weighed carefully, according to the law, even if the demonstrators haven’t engaged in dialogue. In contrast to: “we imposed strict conditions because there were no agreements”, as the municipality writes in one of the earlier versions of their spokesperson-guideline.

The municipality takes on a stance for appearance’s sake, as if such a dialogue about ‘agreements’ would proceed on equal terms. But in reality, conditions are imposed unilaterally. Some municipalities go so far as to think they have a say in the content of a demonstration, as was the case a few years ago in Sittard-Geleen, when protesters against Zwarte Piet were not allowed to discuss racism. And recently in Hengelo, where climate activists were not allowed to mention “the Middle East” during their flyer campaign. In Leiden, we experienced with Doorbraak that flyer distribution was prohibited during our demonstrations against forced labor, even after the appeals committee advised the municipality twice to simply allow it. Earlier, the municipality had already tried to obstruct our action research against forced labor by misusing the Public Events Act (where the right to demonstrate is legally regulated), demanding that we even register street conversations. At the Leiden Housing Revolution demonstration in 2022, 24 participants were arrested by an overwhelming police force when they walked as a group to Leiden Central Station afterward. They were not released until the following day. Two years later, none of them were prosecuted, but the municipality and police did their utmost to intimidate the activists. All of this is to say ’engaging in dialogue’ with the municipality guarantees absolutely nothing. As it turns out from the documents, they wouldn’t have granted us a visible spot on the bridge anyway. After all, the festivities of the commercially oriented Pride were not to be spoiled by protests.

Mariët van Bommel and Bo Salomons 

Read part 3 about how Pride is orchestrated as a non-political event by the municipality, and why they didn’t find it important to respond to our videos about police violence, here.

Notes by the translator:

(*) The original title of this section WC-Eend is a Dutch idiom used to refer to a type of advertising where company representatives present themselves experts on a given type of product that they, surprisingly, sell themselves. See also  

(**) The typo appears in the original with “geweld gebruik”, where it should be “geweld gebruikt” (violence was used). We use a corresponding typo for clarity in this translation, its reappearance being relevant to the following.

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