The magistrate called it ‘unacceptable’ to visit a politician at home: ‘pure intimidation’.Image Raymond Rutting / de Volkskrant

    Two other men were acquitted of complicity but will receive 60 hours of community service for covering up a surveillance camera on location. An eleventh, minor, participant in the protest was given 80 hours of community service. The case against him took place behind closed doors.

    On June 28, the eleven took part in a demonstration with a total of 150 participants near the home of the minister. Unlike two weeks earlier, when a number of protesters also turned up in the street, the action was not peaceful. The group broke through a police cordon late in the evening, wrecked a police car and emptied a slurry tank in front of the house. The situation was so unsafe that the police were unable to intervene.

    The judge called it ‘unacceptable’ to visit a politician at home: ‘this is pure intimidation’. Nevertheless, the verdict for the eight men is slightly lower than the two-month suspended prison sentence and 120 hours of community service that the Public Prosecution Service had demanded. The officer had demanded a suspended sentence of one week and 40 hours of community service against the two other adult men.

    After the action, the police distributed images of eleven suspects in the hope that they would come forward. They had to appear before the police judge in Zutphen on Friday.

    Threatening and uncontrollable

    At the start of the hearing, the public prosecutor called the action on June 28 ‘a deliberate attempt at intimidation’ against the minister. ‘You don’t look for an office holder in this way. Never.’ Moreover, according to the Public Prosecution Service, a very threatening and uncontrollable action for the police officers present. For example, two officers had to ‘run for their lives’ when they saw a shovel coming straight for them.

    In court, the men acknowledged that the action had gotten out of hand, but often downplayed their own role or said they were getting carried away. For example, Jordi saw P. (21), who shook a police car so hard that it almost fell over ‘at that moment there was no harm in it’. “With so many people you feel pretty strong,” added Henry P. (21). Only when another man smashed a window of the police car did he realize that it was ‘wrong thing’.

    The men also cited ‘frustration’ about the nitrogen plans as a major cause of the escalation. ‘She is destroying our future’, said Melvin M. (24) about the minister. ‘I was enormously full of emotion,’ said Henry P. about this.

    Lawyer: not a ‘oiled machine’

    According to their lawyer Maurice Stassen, the men did not plan to cause destruction in advance. “It wasn’t until they got to their destination that they found out why it was.” The lawyer thought that the Public Prosecution Service incorrectly presented the image of a ‘well-oiled machine’. The men themselves also stated in court that they only knew that action would be taken, but not where. ‘I didn’t know where that lady lived,’ said Henk M. (47).

    Nearly all of the eight men who received the most severe sentences said they felt they were on trial for the actions of all 150 protesters who stood in the minister’s street that night. 40-year-old Wilco W. called it “unfair” that the OM has taken eleven men from the group. “There were many more.”

    That is why lawyer Stassen went for acquittal. But the magistrate doesn’t agree. Although the judge understands ‘the struggle’ of the men, it does not give her the right to ‘express discomfort with intimidation’. The men’s behavior also “disinhibited everything that happened that night,” the judge said. ‘The images from that evening speak volumes.’

    The case made a big impression on all the suspects. “The lawsuit has really hit me hard,” said Henry P. during the hearing. “You feel powerless.” 27-year-old Thomas R. agrees: ‘If I get a message like this again about a disorganized demonstration’, he says, ‘I’ll stay at home’.