The Hague: A Dutch court on Tuesday told the government to immediately lift a nationwide coronavirus curfew that sparked the worst riots in the Netherlands for decades.
The government wrongly used emergency powers to bring in the first curfew since the Nazi occupation in World War II, a judge at The Hague district court ruled.
The case was launched by the Viruswaarheid (Virus Truth) group, which has led a series of protests against coronavirus measures in the Netherlands.
"The curfew must be lifted immediately," the court said in a statement. "The curfew is a far-reaching violation of the right to freedom of movement and privacy... This requires a very careful decision-making process."
The government can challenge the decision but any appeal would not suspend the judge’s order, a spokesman for the court was quoted as telling the ANP news agency.
The 9:00 pm to 4:30 am curfew started on January 23 and was extended last week until March 2. Three nights of riots erupted after the curfew began, with police using water cannon and tear gas against protesters in cities including Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Eindhoven.
There was no immediate response from the government -- which is currently sitting in a caretaker capacity ahead of elections on March 17 after resigning over a child benefits scandal.
The court said that the "introduction of the curfew did not invoke the special urgency required" to use the emergency laws that it used to bring in the restrictions without going through the lower and upper houses of parliament.
Curfews were for use in sudden emergencies such as a dyke breach, the judge said. The judge said the fact that the curfew was discussed ahead of its imposition meant that the government had enough warning to go through the proper process.
"Therefore, the use of this law to impose curfew is not legitimate," the court said. The curfew was approved by a majority of Dutch MPs before it was introduced but did not go through the senate.
The Viruswaarheid group -- formerly known as "Viruswaanzin" (Virus Madness) -- organises demonstrations against Covid measures and holds regular live Q&A sessions via Zoom, that are published on Facebook and YouTube.
It was founded by Willem Engel, a dancing teacher who has since become one of the most influential actors against coronavirus restrictions. Engel has said on social media that the current situation in the Netherlands is a "dictatorship" and claims without evidence that the recent riots were orchestrated by an "intelligence agency" so that the government could call the army in.
He has also promoted conspiracy theories that Covid measures aim to reprogramme the Dutch population and create a European superstate, as part of a "culture war" in which social actions such as kissing on the cheek and shaking hands are wiped out.
Meanwhile, Hamas on Tuesday blasted Israel’s refusal to allow some 2,000 coronavirus vaccine doses destined for Gaza health workers through its blockade of the territory as a "violation" of international law.
The Palestinian Authority, based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, had planned to send the Russian Sputnik V doses through Israel to Gaza, a separate territory run by Islamist movement Hamas.
But on Monday evening, the PA health ministry said Israel had blocked the delivery. Israel’s move marked "a real crime and a violation of all international laws and humanitarian standards," Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said.
COGAT, the Israeli military department that runs civil affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories, said on Monday that the PA had requested to transfer 1,000 vaccine doses to Gaza but that "this request is waiting for a political decision". The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday urged the World Health Organisation to "condemn Israel" for the obstruction.
The PA called on the WHO and other international organisations "to hold (Israel) fully responsible for the dangers arising from preventing the entry of vaccines into the Gaza Strip," spokesman Ibrahim Melhem said.
In a related development, North Korean hackers tried to break into the computer systems of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in a search for information on a coronavirus vaccine and treatment technology, South Korea’s spy agency said on Tuesday, according to reports.
The impoverished, nuclear-armed North has been under self-imposed isolation since closing its borders in January last year to try to protect itself from the virus that first emerged in neighbouring China and has gone on to sweep the world, killing more than two million people.
Leader Kim Jong Un has repeatedly insisted that the country has had no coronavirus cases, although outside experts doubt those assertions.
And the closure has added to the pressure on its tottering economy from international sanctions imposed over its banned weapons systems, increasing the urgency for Pyongyang to find a way to deal with the disease.
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