The Brussels Free Speech Declaration #April 16

The Brussels Free Speech Declaration #April 16

Please see below for the draft Brussels Free Speech Declaration. We are circulating this for expressions of interest ahead of a formal launch very soon. If you represent an organisation or have a significant public presence and would like to work with us on the launch of the declaration, please email

For press and media enquiries, please contact John O'Brien +32 476 33 92 34. 

The events of #April16 were an anti-democratic outrage. After the last-minute cancellation of NatCon Brussels 2024 by two venues, following pressure from two separate municipal mayors, a third venue faced down a public order notice and the attempt by police to shut the ongoing conference. Thankfully, legal action concluded at the last hour that the attempted closure of the venue Claridge was unconstitutional. 

The Brussels’ authorities tried to stop a peaceful, democratic assembly and deny elected officials and a swathe of the European public their voice. They failed – but their attempts highlight the dire state of freedom in Brussels and beyond. The gleeful, casual attitude with which city officials boasted of denying the fundamental democratic rights of assembly, speech and debate demonstrates that free speech is in big trouble. Worryingly, the mayor's police order of #April16 did not just invoke hypothetical “safety concerns”, but also directly cited the political opinions of those present as a reason for closing the conference. Invoking the spectre of the far right and of racism has become Brussels’ favoured way to close down discussion. 

What is at issue is not simply a matter for those sympathetic to the views aired by national conservatives. When authorities declare the right to decide who can speak, freedom for everyone is under threat. That is why we need to launch a concerted campaign by all those who value democratic freedoms – from all political persuasions – to fight for the rights of assembly, democratic debate, and free speech. 

We, the undersigned, commit to waging such a battle. We commit to pursue a concerted campaign in defence of freedom of speech and assembly:

  • We pledge to challenge city officials to uphold their democratic and constitutional responsibilities to let discussions happen and to ensure they provide the resources necessary for this. 
  • We pledge to develop and support a network of democracy-supporting venues who will not cave-in to political pressure, and provide resources to help venues and organisations overcome political pressure
  • We pledge to support all those whose democratic rights are threatened by censorship, vague invocations of “safety concerns”, threats, and smear attacks – from whatever political backgrounds.

We will breathe new life into democratic debate in Brussels, the city which plays such a pivotal role in European political life. We invite all city officials, local, national, and European representatives, those involved in policing, and members of the wider public to join us.

Freedom cannot be negotiated. We will stand up to ensure that freedom becomes a worldly reality for all Europeans. 

#April 16


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