No fines as hundreds flout lockdown rules for 'mini festival' in Brussels park

No fines as hundreds flout lockdown rules for 'mini festival' in Brussels park
An image of people sitting in Parc de Forest during the lockdown. © The Brussels Times

Police in Brussels tolerated hundreds of people who defied the lockdown's ban on gathering to attend a "mini" music festival in a Brussels park at the weekend.

Named "24 hours of music in the park" the event drew people in droves to the leafy Parc de Forest, located in the municipality of the same name.

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But despite the current ban on gatherings, officers from the Midi-police zone did not intervene or issue any fines, with some reports saying that they did so under the orders of the local mayor, who denied the accusations.

Between 300 and 500 people reportedly gathered in the 13-hectare park, with noise complaints from local residents prompting no reaction from the police, who said they did not have the numbers to step in.

"There was indeed a meeting in the park, but we didn't count exactly how many people," a police inspector identified as Bouchez told Bruzz.

"The officer on site —who is very experienced by the way— agreed with the mayor that we did not have the necessary capacity to intervene," he added.

The press service of Forest Mayor Stephane Roberti confirmed that there was an event on Friday but was unable to provide further details.

A police officer cited anonymously by French-speaking daily La Dernière Heure expressed frustration over the lack of police response.

"It's upsetting to see that some people consider that [the coronavirus pandemic] has disappeared and that the rules no longer need to be followed — especially when it's coming from authorities," the officer said.

Rejecting the accusations Roberti said: "It's true that last Thursday I decided —and I stand by it— to ask police to relax enforcement of the (...) ban on walking with more than three people in the park or sitting down on a bench."

"I think these measures are no longer necessary, but I never gave the order to police officers to not intervene," he added.

On the Facebook page of the event, organisers said that while they acknowledged that some might find the gathering "unnecessary, absurd or even irresponsible," music and encounters were riches "essential enough to [justify] accepting the human and legal risks of such an event."

The event unfolded against the backdrop of simmering tensions between the Midi police zone and residents in Forest, Anderlecht and Saint-Gilles, the municipalities under its competency and where unions have said they are grappling with "youth gangs."

The police zone is currently under investigation following a fatal police chase sparked after a coronavirus check on two teens, which saw the police chief defuse accusations that racial profiling played a role in officers' decision on who to check or fine for non-compliance with the lockdown.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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