‘Just wanted to catch a train’: not all arrested in Brussels were protesters
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‘Just wanted to catch a train’: not all arrested in Brussels were protesters

Archived Photo. Credit: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga

The 500 arrests made this weekend during a protest at Brussels Central Station also included unrelated passers-by, who were swept up in the fray and could now face a fine, a police official has confirmed to The Brussels Times.

Jennyfer Brendel might be one of them.

“Two friends and I spontaneously decided to take a train trip to Liège last Sunday,” Brendel told The Brussels Times. “We wanted to meet at the Central Station around noon, but we could not get inside because the main entrances to the square were blocked by the police.”

Brendel, who had no part in the unauthorised protest against Belgium’s coronavirus measures last weekend, showed her Rail Pass filled out for a journey from Brussels to Liège to the officers but was still not allowed to enter the station.

“Several times, we said that we did not have anything to do with the demonstration, but they would not let us pass,” she said. “They trapped us in a perimeter with the protestors. We could not get out.”

“Around 2:00 PM, officers took a picture of our identity cards and one of our faces without a mask, before letting us go,” Brendel said, adding that there were a number of other people in a similar position who also just wanted to catch the train.

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While Brendel does not necessarily mind the fact that her trip to Liège was cut short, she is worried about the consequences of being connected to the protest against the coronavirus measures.

“Unlike some protestors I saw, we do believe that the coronavirus exists, and we do believe the measures are necessary,” she said. “I do not want a police report about me saying that I took part in an unauthorised protest. Because I didn’t.”

The Brussels-Capital Ixelles police zone confirmed to The Brussels Times that a number of train travellers were held back by the police, as they were enclosed in the perimeter.

“The police have permission from the public prosecutor’s office to take photos, but they have to be deleted after the demonstration is over,” spokesperson Ilse Van de keere said.

According to her, the police present at the protest asked everyone on the square who was not part of the protest to leave several times. “The people who were still there afterwards were assumed to be participating,” she said.

Everyone whose identity was recorded could have a police report sent to their homes, and could get a GAS-fine (an administrative fine for minor offences) for being present at an unauthorised demonstration. “However, people can certainly contest them, if they think it is not right,” Van de keere said.

If you get fined incorrectly

To contest the fine, one must contact the local Sanctioning Official, who oversees GAS-fines. “They may also contact our police force,” said Van de keere. “We are not the ones dealing with it, but we will pass it on.”

They will have to show evidence to support their claim. People who wanted to go somewhere by train, for example, can add their train tickets.

“They can just add that in,” Van de keere said. “It should be no problem at all.”

Maïthé Chini & Helen Lyons
The Brussels Times