Freedom in the World
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The Netherlands is a parliamentary democracy with a strong record of safeguarding political rights and civil liberties. Nevertheless, the political debate and policymaking in recent years have reflected a growing wariness of immigration and Muslim minorities.
- Dutch voters rejected a European Union (EU) association agreement with Ukraine in April, though the referendum was nonbinding.
- In September, a majority in the parliament expressed support for a repeal of the country’s lèse majesté laws.
- In November, the lower house of parliament passed a ban on face-covering garments in some public settings, but it had yet to be considered by the Senate.
- Geert Wilders, leader of the xenophobic right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV), was found guilty in December of insulting and inciting racial discrimination against people of Moroccan origin in a 2014 speech. However, he was acquitted of inciting hatred and received no penalty for his conviction.
The approach of general elections scheduled for March 2017 influenced the political debate in the Netherlands throughout 2016, with the government and various parties taking up contentious topics related to immigration, integration, and Dutch sovereignty.
In April, voters rejected an EU association agreement with Ukraine after anti-EU activists organized an online petition to bring the matter to a nonbinding referendum. Although more than 61 percent of participants vote against the deal, turnout was only about 32 percent. The agreement, which the government had already signed, was expected to proceed despite the vote.
The government continued to tighten its asylum policies during the year, adding to its list of “safe countries of origin” in February and again in October. Applicants from the listed countries are entitled to a single hearing and must leave the country immediately if their claim is denied, even if they plan to appeal.
In May, Minister of Social Affairs and Employment Lodewijk Asscher sent a letter to municipalities and local mosques to remind them of a rarely enforced 2009 law that requires foreign imams, priests, and other religious functionaries to have a work permit before they can preach in the Netherlands. Also that month, the lower house of parliament approved legislation that would allow the government to strip dual citizens of Dutch nationality if it finds that they joined a terrorist group abroad and pose a threat to national security. In November, the lower house passed a ban on clothing that covers the face in certain public settings, including schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings. The Senate was considering both bills at year’s end.
Separately, in September, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) said it would support a proposal by the liberal party Democrats 66 (D66) to repeal the country’s antiquated lèse-majesté laws, giving the plan a majority, though the parliament had yet to act on the matter at year’s end. The laws have occasionally been enforced in recent years. In July, a man was sentenced to 30 days in jail after calling the king a murderer, rapist, and thief on social media.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in the Netherlands, see Freedom in the World 2016.