Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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‘Authoritarian Censorship’: Left-Wing Official Unleashes Police to Shutter Big Conservative Event

A battle over freedom of speech has been raging in Belgium after speakers and guests were denied access to a major conservative conference because government authorities deemed it to be hostile to their agenda of “abortion, same-sex unions, and the European Union.” But now there’s been an equally surprising turnaround, and the event in Brussels is being allowed to resume with its schedule.

The conference on National Conservativism or “NatCon” was scheduled for April 16-17th. This was the third venue where organizers tried to hold the conference. The first venue canceled it after coming under pressure from authorities. The same thing happened with the second venue. 

A third site was given the ok for the Saint-Josse-ten-Noode district in Brussels, and the event was well underway when Mayor Emir Kir issued an order to prohibit it from continuing. 

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The venue was then surrounded by police, and speakers and guests outside were denied access. Those who were already attending were told that if they left they would also be barred access.

According to Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF International), Mayor Kir cited that his reasons for stopping the conference were as follows: “that [NatCon’s] vision is not only ethically conservative (e.g. hostility to the legalization of abortion, same-sex unions, etc.) but also focused on the defense of ‘national sovereignty’, which implies, amongst other things, a ‘Eurosceptic’ attitude.”

Kir also claimed some of the speakers “are reputed to be traditionalists” and that the conference must be banned “to avoid foreseeable attacks on public order and peace.” 

ADF International helped the conference organizers to file a legal challenge arguing that Kir’s actions were “contrary to the fundamental rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly – the pillars of truly democratic societies.”

It cites that Kir “acted outside his competence to shut down free and peaceful dialogue based on a politically-motivated justification in violation of freedom of assembly.”

“No official should have the power to shut down free and peaceful assembly merely because he disagrees with what is being said,” stated Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, and a speaker at NatCon. “How can Brussels claim to be the heart of Europe if its officials only allow one side of the European conversation to be heard?”

In a late-night decision, the Conseil d’État, the highest court in Belgium, ruled in favor of NatCon deciding that “Article 26 of the Constitution [of Belgium] grants everyone the right to assemble peacefully…the threat to public order seems to be derived purely from the reactions that its organization might provoke among opponents.”

“Although the mayor has the authority to make police ordinances in case of ‘serious disturbance of the public peace or other unforeseen events,’ in this case there was no sufficient threat of violence to justify this,” ADF International noted.  

“In allowing the National Conservatism Conference to continue, the Administrative Court has come down on the side of basic human rights. While common sense and justice have prevailed, what happened yesterday is a dark mark on European democracy,” Coleman explained. 

“The kind of authoritarian censorship we have just witnessed belongs in the worst chapters of Europe’s history. Thankfully, the Court has acted swiftly to prevent the repression of our fundamental freedoms to both assembly and speech, thus protecting these essential characteristics of democracy for another day,” he added. 

As noted, the two-day conference on “Preserving the Nation-State in Europe” had to change location three times in the days leading up to the event, because of concerns from venue owners and city representatives.

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