Court Overturns Ban on Conservative Conference in Brussels in Win for Free Speech Advocates

Tom Ozimek
By Tom Ozimek
April 17, 2024Europe
Court Overturns Ban on Conservative Conference in Brussels in Win for Free Speech Advocates
Belgian Police block the entrance of the Claridge hotel in Brussesl on April 16, 2024. (Simon Wohlfahrt/AFP via Getty Images)

The top administrative court in Belgium issued an emergency late-night ruling in favor of a conservative conference, overturning a ban by a mayor who cited “public safety” concerns, but explicitly said the “far-right is not welcome,” with the court allowing the conference to resume on April 17 after it was blocked a day earlier by police.

The National Conservative (NatCon) conference, which featured prominent conservatives as guest speakers like British politician Nigel Farage and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, was free to resume Wednesday after the Conseil d’État, the highest court in Belgium relating to issues of public administration, overturned the mayoral ban.

“NatCon Brussels 2 will be free to meet today for its second day of programming without further interference from state authorities,” the organizers said in a post X, announcing the breakthrough.

After police blocked the event on April 16 and prevented people from entering the venue following the mayor’s shut-down order, the conference organizers filed an emergency legal challenge with support from ADF International.

NTD Photo
Members of the Belgian police enter into the venue in an attempt to cancel the event on Day 1 of The National Conservatism Conference at the Claridge in Brussels, Belgium, on April 16, 2024. (Omar Havana/Getty Images)

‘Victory for Free Speech’

In the court’s decision, which ADF International labeled as a “victory for free speech,” the judges decided that there were insufficient public safety grounds for imposing the ban.

Citing the order, ADF International said the court stated that, “Article 26 of the Constitution [of Belgium] grants everyone the right to assemble peacefully,” and although it acknowledged the mayor’s authority to issue police ordinances in case of “serious disturbance of the public peace or other unforeseen events,” in this case there was an insufficient threat of violence to justify the shut down order.

Further, the court stated that “it does not seem possible to infer from the contested decision that a peace-disrupting effect is attributed to the congress itself.” Rather, as the decision notes, “the threat to public order seems to be derived purely from the reactions that its organization might provoke among opponents.”

Mr. Orban, who was set to deliver a keynote speech at the event on Wednesday, reacted to the ruling in a post on X:The communists couldn’t ban us and neither could the Brussels bureaucrats. The second day of the @NatConTalk conference is underway.”

The NatCon conference brought together conservative politicians, journalists, and academics who say they want to preserve national sovereignty, advocate for conservative values, including border security, while disagreeing with what they see as attempts by the European Union to take powers away from individual states.

The conference has sparked controversy in some circles by its opposition to progressive agendas and the forces of globalism.

The mayor, Emir Kir, acknowledged the court’s decision in a post on X, but defended his earlier decision to impose the ban, insisting it was motivated by public safety concerns while reiterating his “lack of sympathy for those who preach hatred.”

Political Storm Erupts

Brussels police briefly entered the venue where the NatCon conference was being held on April 16, before exiting and setting up a blockade outside, allowing people inside to exit but preventing anyone from entering.

The police action was prompted by an order issued by Mr. Kir, who serves as the mayor of the Saint-Josse-ten-Noode district in Brussels, where the NatCon event is being held at the Claridge hotel.

Mr. Kir said in a Tuesday statement posted on X that he had issued an order to ban the event “to guarantee public safety.”

“In Etterbeek, Brussels City, and Saint-Josse, the far-right is not welcome,” he added.

Footage shared on social media showed Mr. Farage speaking at the conference on stage as police entered the venue.

“He is anti-democratic, anti-free speech, and a great advert for Brexit,” Mr. Farage, a Brexit advocate, said in a post on X, criticizing Mr. Kir and his shut-down order.

“We are up against an evil ideology. We are up against a new form of communism,” Mr. Farage said from the stage.

On Wednesday, after the court ruled to overturn his ban, Mr. Kir said in a post on X that his decision to issue the ban was based on third-party security analysis and not his personal antipathy toward the conference and its organizers.

NTD Photo
Nigel Farage gives a speech on Day 1 of the National Conservatism Conference at the Claridge in Brussels, Belgium, on April 16, 2024. (Omar Havana/Getty Images)

Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, human rights lawyer, and speaker at the NatCon conference, praised the Brussels court decision to overturn the mayoral ban.

“In allowing the National Conservatism Conference to continue, the Administrative Court has come down on the side of basic human rights,” he said in a statement. “While common sense and justice have prevailed, what happened yesterday is a dark mark on European democracy. No official should have the power to shut down free and peaceful assembly merely because he disagrees with what is being said.”

The NatCon conference is organized by the Edmund Burke Foundation, a conservative think-tank.

From The Epoch Times

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