Government prohibits citizens’ initiative
to march in solidarity with Palestinians
PHILIPSBURG--Following marches around the globe in solidarity with Palestinians, a group of St. Maarten residents planned a peaceful march in Philipsburg, from Walter Plantz Square to the courthouse, on Sunday, November 19.
This march was banned by the government, the organisers were informed in writing on Friday afternoon.
“While recognizing the fundamental human right to protest and express oneself, enshrined in our Constitution, the Government also has a role to ensure that this right does not infringe on the rights of others,” Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs stated in a press release issued about an hour and a half after informing the organisers that they were not allowed to march in public.
“In this regard the Government has taken note of the concerning propaganda on social media related to the march on November 19, 2023. This propaganda promotes the destruction of property and the burning of national flags. Certain acts should not take place on St. Maarten where the inclusiveness of many nationalities reside on its peaceful shores,” she minister added.
Asked for a response, demonstration organisers told The Daily Herald that they lamented the government's decision to prohibit the march, expressing concern of “government's incapacity to guarantee freedom of speech” in country St. Maarten. “Basic civil rights were denied to those who wanted to express solidarity with the victims of the genocide in Palestine, calling also for an immediate ceasefire,” said the organisers, who wish to remain anonymous due to their fear of political persecution.
The group notified Minister of Justice Anna Richardson and St. Maarten Police Force KPSM of their intentions to hold a peaceful demonstration more than a week ahead of time.
“On November 9, a group of concerned citizens announced a solidarity march about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. This was formally announced to the Minister of Justice on November 10, in line with the National Ordinance on Public Manifestations. For this march, organizers developed a safety plan to ensure that the march would be peaceful. This has been consulted with the local police forces who provided additional input to mitigate any potential risk.”
Jacobs said on Friday, November 17, “The Government of St. Maarten acknowledges the increasing severity of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. As a multi-ethnic and diverse country, we have welcomed many to our shores, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to both the Palestinian and the Israeli people and diaspora who have been impacted by this conflict.”
While recognizing the fundamental human right to protest and express oneself, Jacobs said, “The government also has a role to ensure that this right does not infringe on the rights of others.” To this the organisers of the march replied that government did not clarify whose rights would be infringed on when the march would take place.
The group stressed that they are not aware of any propaganda, especially any call for the destruction of property and burning of national flags. “Moreover, the term propaganda insinuates that there has been sharing of false information to mislead people into action, whereas nothing but facts have been presented in the announcement of the march. We have always clearly communicated that violence, hateful messaging, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, support to Hamas or atrocity committed by the Israeli state would not be accepted at the event.”
After hearing about the decision, persons told the organisation that long before the initiation of the solidarity march, a St. Maarten resident had posted a video where he burnt the Israeli flag and that this could be the reason for the minister’s decision.
“Since this video was posted before any announcement for the peace march happened, this is entirely unrelated to the intended protest and we were never made aware of its existence by the relevant authorities,” the group stated. “Moreover, to prohibit a demonstration because of one person posting a video of himself burning an Israeli flag a month beforehand is ludicrous. That would be like cancelling Carnival because one person was drinking and driving a month before the annual event.”
The citizens said that government failed to substantiate its reasons for prohibiting the march. “We were not informed of the concerns expressed in the decision delivered on Friday afternoon.”
According to the organisers, “The government of St. Maarten seems to be confused on what their obligations are to the general population, and ministers do not understand what is happening in the Middle East. They seem to think that we are dealing with a religious conflict, when in fact what the world is witnessing is a genocide. This is not about Arabs versus Jews; the largest demonstrations in the United States are organised by the Jewish community.”
Jacobs said on Friday, “The expected unrest as well as direct and severe risk for public order that this march could create in the community of St. Maarten is of great concern.” Pursuant to Article 5, paragraph 2, in conjunction with Article 2 of the National Ordinance on Public Manifestations, the Minister of Justice prohibited the demonstration “for the protection of health, in the interests of traffic and to prevent or control disorder,” the press release said.
The government further stated that the possibility of placing restrictions on the demonstration had been extensively reviewed, concluding that “these restrictions will insufficiently take away the aforementioned expected unrest as well as direct and severe risk for public order.”
The organisers question whether the government of St. Maarten has done everything in its power to respond to the alleged risks. “A decision to prohibit a demonstration should not be taken lightly, as government needs to ensure that the constitutional right on the freedom to demonstrate can be upheld. If there are any concerns to safety and public order, the government should take the responsibility of addressing these through other means, such as the prohibition of specific individuals to attend,” said the organisers in their response.
According to the organisers, the decision by the Minister of Justice has created unrest among supporters of the solidarity march, as they feel restricted in their democratic right to freedom of speech and assembly. In fact, the organisers said “that this decision is now about more than just the initial cause of the protest. This is about upholding the democratic values of a country and it is worrisome to see how these are being repressed.”
It is worth noting, the citizens stated, “that recent similar demonstrations in the region have happened without any incident. In major cities worldwide, demonstrations have been held in solidarity with the people of Palestine in the wake of over 11.000 people being massacred since October 7, 2023, majority of whom are women and children. In the Netherlands, demonstrations are held daily and last week Curaçao saw a peaceful concentration of concerned citizens. And yesterday Barbados held an undisturbed march.”
The informal collective, identifying themselves as SXM in Solidarity with Palestine, said they are looking at other options, including the possibility of holding a demonstration in Marigot. “It is unfortunate that island residents concerned with the international situation will have to find recourse in the French territory. The march, and we will demonstrate eventually, will be composed of people from all ethnic, religious and national identities, and all walks of life, just like in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations of 2020."