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Dutch woman whose elbow was ‘broken’ by police at climate protest says she will not give up

More than 400 people were reportedly arrested at The Hague climate protest on Saturday, 6 April.
More than 400 people were reportedly arrested at The Hague climate protest on Saturday, 6 April. Copyright Maarten Photomic
Copyright Maarten Photomic
By Lottie Limb
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Police say climate activists were warned that violence could be used against them if they blocked a highway again.

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A woman who claims her elbow was broken by police during a climate protest at The Hague has described the painful physical and mental impact of the incident.

The Dutch resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, was one of more than 400 people including Greta Thunberg arrested for taking part in the peaceful protest on Saturday.

In a video posted to X by organisers Extinction Rebellion Nederland, she is seen lying in the back of a bus while being detained by The Hague police. A male police officer twists her arm forward at an unnatural angle, and she yells out in pain.

“This violence is no exception, I have only been ‘lucky’ that it was filmed,” she says in a statement shared with Euronews Green.

“I try not to let anxiety get the better of me but this morning [8 April] I found myself sobbing away a hyperventilation attack when I got into a setting that reminded me of Saturday.”

A photo of Greta being roughly handled by police at the protest also caught people’s attention online, sparking a fresh conversation about the policing of demonstrations in the Netherlands and Europe.

Why were activists protesting at The Hague?

Extinction Rebellion gave advance warning of their plan to block the A12 highway last week for the 37th time. In response, XR says, they were met with an “absurdly large” and heavy-handed police presence.

The ongoing blockades have a specific aim: to stop the billions of euros spent on fossil fuel subsidies in the Netherlands every year.

Globally, governments spent more than €900 billion on fossil fuel subsidies in 2022. These take various forms including petrol price caps, whereby authorities limit the price that companies can charge for fuel - and pay them the difference.

While these measures are intended to protect consumers, analysts say that fossil fuel giants are the real winners, as their competitiveness is artificially maintained versus clean alternatives.

XR says Saturday’s heavy police presence was unnecessary for its peaceful protest against the €39 to 46 billion that goes towards yearly fossil subsidies in the Netherlands.
XR says Saturday’s heavy police presence was unnecessary for its peaceful protest against the €39 to 46 billion that goes towards yearly fossil subsidies in the Netherlands.Maarten Photomic

The Hague protests are designed to put pressure on the Dutch government, ahead of a planned debate about fossil subsidies in June. Similar protests were also organised on Saturday in Belgium, Finland, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

XR says about 1,000 protesters took part in The Hague action, and 437 people were arrested. Greta Thunberg was in fact arrested twice; returning to block a different road in the evening after she was detained for several hours.

“We are in a planetary emergency and we are not going to stand by and let people lose their lives and livelihood and be forced to become climate refugees when we can do something,” she told reporters.

Police are ‘cracking down’ on climate protests in Europe

Climate campaigners say that the forceful policing on display at The Hague on Saturday is part of a wider crackdown on protests across Europe.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders, Michael Forst, has repeatedly expressed his alarm about the way climate activists are being treated by police, governments and media.

“Since my appointment [in June 2022] I have been travelling to many countries in Europe and there is a clear trend,” Forst told the UK’s Guardian newspaper last year. “We can see an increasing number of cases by which these climate activists are brought to court more and more often, and more and more severe laws being passed to facilitate these attacks on defenders.”

He believes there is “European cooperation among the police forces” where climate activists are concerned.

“This has a so-called ‘chilling effect’ on protest in a time where climate action can't be any more urgent,” a spokesperson for XR Nederland told Euronews Green.

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“It is an absolute disgrace that in the self proclaimed ‘international city of peace and justice’ the police used violence towards peaceful [protesters], including pain grips on wrists and noses.”

In response, a spokesperson for The Hague police force said that, “People have been warned multiple times that if they wanted to get on the highway, they would be stopped. And that violence could be used against them.

“Despite the many warnings that these hundreds of people had, they still wanted to block the A12 and tried to break the barrier or blocked other roads which caused traffic disruption.”

What happened to the protester who had her elbow broken?

The woman shown in the video has detailed the physical and psychological impact of her injury in a statement shared with Euronews Green.

With the use of only one arm, she currently struggles to dress herself, open jars and bottles, drive or cycle - meaning she is dependent on public transport. The medicine she takes is unable to cloak the pain for more than a couple of hours.

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“Mentally, the impact is also great,” she says. “At night, falling asleep goes well but after a few hours I wake up and hear the policeman say to me again ‘how many more bruises do you want?’

“I see the video in front of me in which he breaks my elbow and feel the helplessness again from when I was lying there. I lie in bed crying and can't get back to sleep. I feel fear, powerlessness and am so bothered by the fact that a human being does this to another human being without hesitation.”

Police brutality is something that should not be tolerated, our right to demonstrate is under pressure.

“Police brutality is something that should not be tolerated, our right to demonstrate is under pressure,” she adds. “My elbow they broke, my mental being took a hit but I will heal and not give up. The Earth needs us, the climate crisis is now and I am not giving up.”

XR Nederland says it was confirmed in hospital that the woman’s elbow was broken.

The Hague Police spokesperson adds, “We don’t recognise ourselves in the story. The lady may file a complaint if she does not agree with the course of action.”

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