Written by Staff Writer by Laura Maggi, CNN London
The Dutch artist’s trial for promoting terrorism under a law that forbids “promoting the overthrow of the constitutional order” has begun in the Dutch city of Utrecht, as dozens of people from across the globe attend in solidarity.
CNN reporters watched from a short distance as some in the large crowd repeatedly blew vuvuzelas, the banging sound of which has been becoming as synonymous with these kinds of events as the Nazi salute and Che Guevara T-shirts.
A visual aid to illustrate the reasons behind the trial — before the defendant and his supporters chant “Liberty, equality, fraternity!”
He also emerged in front of reporters, stating he was defending his rights as an artist and noting that the restrictions on him have “devastated” his work. The 53-year-old — who has created anti-Islamic art in his home country for over two decades — has faced regular harassment from the authorities, in the wake of his 2015 film “Symbiosis,” in which he staged the ultimate public sex act between two men.
Not everyone is convinced. Alain Robbe-Grillet, a French art critic who has taken a keen interest in Arbery, believes that he deserves to go to prison. “It does not begin and end with the art,” he told the Associated Press. “He makes statements and I understand that he feels frustrated. It doesn’t mean that his work is not art.”
Arbery is one of six artists arrested under anti-terror laws — including “Stranger” artist Matthew Barney and female performance artist Marina Abramovic — and facing a maximum of 30 years behind bars for suggesting in video and post-production work that racial or religious hatred is justified.
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Meanwhile, Arbery faces a number of other legal charges, including inciting hate, inciting violence, inciting social division, and participating in an organized crime by creating the video.
The trial has sparked violent protests in Europe, with a large number of Arbery’s supporters coming to Utrecht to show their support.
“The whole world needs to think about this story, take sides, do something,” said artist and Israeli activist Philipe Frodl to CNN.
Lula Magruder, an artist from California, said she was sickened by the trial.
“We have to love and accept and also listen and understand what it is about the artistic climate today that we need to push through these boundaries and restrictions and make the boundaries absolutely ridiculous,” she told CNN.
In addition to Frodl, others in the crowd are from France, Belgium, Germany, the United States, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Norway, Switzerland, Israel, Hungary, Iran, Afghanistan, France, Russia, Georgia, and Kuwait. Some wore t-shirts with the slogan “Make Utrecht Free.”
Arbery’s lawyers were granted their request to ban the journalists present from filming or publishing on social media. Journalists however were allowed to record from a distance and to take notes.
Sentencing has been postponed until October.
This story has been updated to reflect the fact that press were allowed to enter the courtroom.