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Brussels police outside NatCon Brussels, April 16, 2024.Jean-Paul Van der Walle, ADF International

BRUSSELS (LifeSiteNews) — Thanks to a successful challenge from pro-freedom legal organization ADF International, a Belgian court has struck down an order from the local authorities which saw an “international incident” created after police blockaded the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Belgium yesterday. 

In an early morning announcement April 17, ADF International announced that a Belgian court “has struck down state censorship,” thus allowing the National Conservatism (or NatCon) conference to proceed undeterred into its second day today.

Via a press statement, ADF International wrote: 

In the decision, considered a victory for free speech, the court decided that ‘Article 26 of the Constitution [of Belgium] grants everyone the right to assemble peacefully,’ and although the mayor has the authority to make police ordinances in case of ‘serious disturbance of the public peace or other unforeseen events,’ in this case there was no sufficient threat of violence to justify this. 

The Court reasoned 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.’

READ: Socialist Belgian mayor orders police to shut down event featuring Cardinal Müller, Orbán, Farage

The Brussels NatCon conference currently taking place was catapulted to the fore of international headlines on Tuesday, when local police moved to shut the event down, under orders of the local mayor. 

As LifeSiteNews reported, the Socialist mayor of the Saint-Josse-ten-Noode municipality – Emir Kir – ordered the police to shut down the two-day conference to “guarantee public safety.”

Footage and images flooded social media around midday, showing lines of police barricading the conference venue, prohibiting anyone from entering. Those already inside were not allowed back in if they left. 

The conference is hardly a fringe event. High-profile guests and speakers include Vatican prelate Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orbán, former Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, former French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, former U.K. politician and Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, and previous U.K. Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

The police clampdown was initiated as Braverman was arriving and Zemmour was refused entry by the police.

NatCon organizers also stated that the catering had been canceled, and participants only had limited access to water and food as the police were preventing the delivery of supplies. Those still effectively locked inside the conference venue by nightfall were able to partake of a gala dinner, and then left the building. 

Paul Coleman, ADF International’s executive director, shared an English translation of the police order on X yesterday afternoon. The mayor’s order cited the “ethically conservative” position espoused by speakers at NatCon, “e.g., hostility to legalized abortion, same-sex unions, etc.,” along with a “Eurosceptic” mindset among his reasons for deploying the police.

The conference, being held on premises operated by Claridge Events, had already been forced to find new venues on two occasions in the preceding days, as pressure was placed on them to cancel the conference due to its promotion of “conservative” talking points. 

The Claridge venue was the third home for the event. NatCon’s hastily found backup venue broke “its written contract” to host the event on Monday night, according to NatCon organizer Yoram Hazony, hours before the conference was scheduled to begin Tuesday morning. 

Welcoming the court ruling to allow NatCon to proceed unimpeded, Coleman stated:

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. How can Brussels claim to be the heart of Europe if its officials only allow one side of the European conversation to be heard?

Coleman attested that Tuesday’s “kind of authoritarian censorship we have just witnessed belongs in the worst chapters of Europe’s history. Thankfully, the Court has acted swiftly to prevent the repression of our fundamental freedoms to both assembly and speech, thus protecting these essential characteristics of democracy for another day.”

Condemnation of Mayor Kir’s crackdown on NatCon was wide-ranging, and not merely from the dignitaries speaking at it. The British prime minister’s deputy spokesman called the scenes “extremely disturbing.”

“The Prime Minister is a strong supporter and advocate of free speech and believes it is fundamental to any democracy,” the spokesman added.

According to author and NatCon speaker Rod Dreher, Cardinal Müller went so far as to say the Belgian police action was “like Nazi Germany.” 

Belgium’s pro-EU Prime Minister Alexander De Croo also condemned the actions taken by local police, in a signal move made against the local mayor. Writing on X yesterday evening he stated that “[w]hat happened at the Claridge today is unacceptable. Municipal autonomy is a cornerstone of our democracy but can never overrule the Belgian constitution guaranteeing the freedom of speech and peaceful assembly since 1830. Banning political meetings is unconstitutional. Full stop.”