Belgian police sealed off the entrance to the venue, not allowing anyone to enter on Day 1 of The National Conservatism Conference at the Claridge on April 16, 2024 in Brussels. (Photo by Omar Havana/Getty Images)


NatCon: Belgian court overturns local mayor’s decision to ban event, ‘Free speech has prevailed’


The organisers behind the National Conservatism conference have won their appeal in court against local mayor Emir Kir. The event is allowed to go on.

Some speakers who were barred on Tuesday, April 16, will give their speeches today, including French former presidential candidate Eric Zemmour. This morning, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will address attendees.

When the mayor of the Saint-Josse-ten-Noode district in Brussels, Emir Kir, ordered the shut down of the conference, the organisers immediately initiated summary proceedings against the decision.

Late in the evening, the Belgian Conseil d’État or Council of State judges ruled against the actions of Kir.

Speaking to Peter Caddle of Brussels Signal at the Claridge event venue, Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, a human rights lawyer and speaker at the conference, called it “an amazing result”.

Coleman said it was “a surreal experience to be in court at 10.30 pm, something I’ve never experienced before, and may never for the rest of my life. It was amazing to see that the Belgian judiciary come together to hear this case in extraordinary circumstances.”

“Then we receive the decision in the middle of the night, about 2.30 am. It was a positive ruling that overturns the mayor’s decision and that allows the conference to take place. Free speech has prevailed and it is great to be here.”

The court ruled that “Article 26 of the Constitution [of Belgium] grants everyone the right to assemble peacefully,” and while the mayor is able to enact police ordinances in the event of “serious disturbance of the public peace or other unforeseen events,” there was insufficient threat of violence in this case for this to be justified.

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 organisation might provoke among opponents”.

On April 16, while defending his decision for banning the conference, mayor Emir Kir – who was excluded from the Socialist Party for his links to the Grey Wolves, an extremist Turkish ultranationalist movement – also said, “In Etterbeek, Brussels City and Saint-Josse, the far-right is not welcome.”

This showed a political motivation behind the ban, which was not well received.

On the website of ADF International, Paul Coleman said, “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?”

“The 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.”

The ban was met with international condemnation from all political sides. Italian PM Giorgia Meloni said she was in “disbelief and dismay” about the events and said it was an “unjustifiable abuse”. She contacted Belgian PM Alexander De Croo, who described what happened in Brussels as “unacceptable”.

In a much-viewed post on X, Belgium’s PM said “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.”

A spokesperson for the British Prime Minister said that the attempt to block conservatives from speaking was “extremely disturbing”, adding, “The Prime Minister is a strong supporter and advocate for free speech. He is very clear that canceling events or no-platforming speakers is damaging to free speech and democracy. He is an advocate of free speech even when you may disagree.”

Michael Shellenberger said “This is outrageous totalitarianism and must be condemned by all Western political leaders, no matter where you sit on the political spectrum.”

“This is the kind of thuggish gangsterism that we rightly associate with Nazism and Communism. ”

“Shame on the police and mayor of Brussels for this totalitarian tactic! ”

Even the hard-left Yanis Varoufakis, the former Finance Minister from Greece, came to the defence of NatCon, saying, “It is an attempt to ban a conference simply because the authorities didn’t like what was being said in it.”

“My view is that Europe is sliding ever so fast towards a quagmire of farcical authoritarianism. It may be a farce when history repeats itself but it can be just as atrocious, evil and misanthropic as the first time.”

“I think we’re past the point of no return of the European Union,” warned Varoufakis. “I am throwing my arms up, but not surrendering […] Whether Left or Right, those who believe in some basic human decency and political liberties should resist.”

European leaders, like Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, and international NGOs, remain silent about the event.