Dutch pro-blackface protesters sentenced for road block

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A Dutch court sentenced 34 supporters of a traditional Christmas-time blackface character to community service on Friday for blocking a road to stop an anti-racism protest.

"Zwarte Piet" or Black Pete appears annually in a gaudy medieval costume with a blackened face, red lips and an afro wig, handing out gifts to children as the sidekick to Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas as he is known in Dutch.

The character sparks heated yearly debate and small but vocal protests on racism in the Netherlands, with opponents branding him as a racist throwback to the colonial era.

Last year pro-Pete supporters blocked off the busy A7 highway in northern Friesland, preventing anti-racism activists from demonstrating against the fictitious character's traditional yearly "arrival".

The supporters also stopped the two buses with activists on their way to the small Frisian town of Dokkum, where Saint Nicholas and his Black Petes stepped off a boat.

"The court seriously condemns all the accused," Leeuwarden District Court said in a statement, adding that while "to demonstrate is a fundamental right... the accused took the law into their own hands."

The protesters were given sentences of between 80 and 240 hours community service

Judges also handed compensation to an anti-racism activist who suffered concussion when the buses were abruptly stopped.

Every year in the run-up to Christmas, debate around the existence of Black Pete unleashes deep-seated emotions in the Netherlands.

Black Pete's defenders say he is simply black from coming down the chimney and a children's figure, refusing to admit there might be anything racist about the character.

After a particularly heated debate in 2014 other Petes were introduced for the first time: "Cheese Petes" with yellow faces, "Stroopwafel Petes" with striped, light brown faces resembling the traditional Dutch syrup biscuit of the same name and a white-faced "Clown Pete".

Last month the Dutch public broadcaster said it had decided to change the appearance of Black Pete at this year's "arrival" in Zaanstad north of Amsterdam.

But the broadcaster changed its tune shortly afterwards, saying that "some Petes go down the chimney a lot, therefore they turn properly black", the NOS public newscaster reported.

Activists were again planning anti-Pete protests this year, the largest in The Hague on November 17, news reports said.

A UN committee that looks at the eradication of racism in 2016 branded Black Pete a "vestige of slavery".

The Dutch children's ombudsman also ruled that the character must be "stripped of discriminatory or stereotypical characteristics."


© 2018 AFP

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