THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Dutch justice minister said Tuesday that people arrested amid three nights of rioting sparked by the country’s coronavirus curfew will face swift prosecution.
Ferd Grapperhaus said rioters would be quickly brought before courts by public prosecutors and face possible prison terms if convicted.
“They won’t get away with it,” he told reporters in The Hague.
His comments came as the Netherlands is facing its worst civil unrest in years, initially triggered by anger at the country’s tough lockdown, but increasingly fueled by calls for rioting swirling on social media. The violence has stretched the police and led at times to the deployment of military police.
Grapperhaus was speaking after a third night of rioting hit towns and cities in the Netherlands, with the most serious clashes and looting of stores in the port city of Rotterdam and the southern cathedral city of Den Bosch.
“If you rob people who are struggling, with the help of the government, to keep their head above water, it’s totally scandalous,” Grapperhaus told reporters in The Hague. He stressed that the curfew is a necessary measure in the fight against the coronavirus.
A total of 184 people were arrested in Monday night’s unrest and police ticketed more than 1,700 people for breaching the 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. curfew. The fine for the breaching the curfew is 95 euros ($115). Officers around the country also detained dozens suspected of inciting rioting through social media.
Police said rioters threw stones, fireworks and Molotov cocktails at officers.
“This criminal violence must stop,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted.
“The riots have nothing to do with protesting or struggling for freedom,” he added. “We must win the battle against the virus together, because that’s the only way of getting back our freedom.”
Local residents in Den Bosch took to the streets Tuesday to help with the cleanup as the city’s mayor said he would investigate authorities’ response to the rioting.
The unrest began Saturday night — the first night of the curfew — when youths in the fishing village of Urk torched a coronavirus testing center. It escalated significantly with violence in the southern city of Eindhoven and the capital, Amsterdam.
Gerrit van der Burg, the country’s most senior public prosecutor, said in a statement Monday that authorities are “committed to tracking down and prosecuting people who committed crimes. Count on it that they will be dealt with harshly.”
The rate of new infections in Netherlands has been decreasing in recent weeks, but the government is keeping up the tough lockdown, citing the slow pace of the decline and fears of new more transmissible variants of the virus spreading quickly. The country has registered more than 13,650 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.