One in five churches in the Netherlands is no longer a house of worship

One in five churches in the Netherlands are no longer used as a place of worship and most have been turned into homes or cultural centres, according to research by Trouw. The Netherlands has some 6,900 churches and 1,400 have been given another function over the years. Experts expect more churches to be de-consecrated in the coming years as the population ages. Last year, national statistics office CBS said religion had become a minority pursuit in the Netherlands as the number of people identifying with a religious faith dropped below 50% for the first time. Roman Catholics remain the largest religious group, comprising 24% of the population, while 6% of Dutch people identified as Protestant and 5% as Muslim.   More >

Wilders' anti-Moroccan court case to open

Appeal court judges are due today to begin hearings in the Geert Wilders ‘fewer Moroccans’ case, as the PVV leader re-starts an appeal against his earlier conviction. However, recent claims of possible political interference may result in further delays to the case, observers said. Broadcaster RTL Nieuws and the Telegraaf newspaper have both reported there was contact between the then-justice minister Ivo Opstelten and the head of the public prosecution department about the case in 2014. They also say Opstelten was keen to see Wilders prosecuted for leading the anti-Moroccan chant at a pre-election meeting. The original appeal began in May last year but Wilders' legal team successfully applied for the judges to be removed after alleging bias. The court had refused to delay the trial so that more research could be carried out into the decision not to prosecute D66 leader Alexander Pechtold for comments he made about Russians. 2014 The ‘fewer Moroccans’ case dates back to 2014 when Wilders asked a roomful of supporters if they wanted to have ‘more or fewer’ Moroccans in the country. When the crowd shouted back: ‘Fewer, fewer,’ Wilders responded: ‘We’ll take care of that.’ In December 2016, Wilders was found guilty of inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans. A panel of three judges said Wilders’s comments were ‘demeaning and insulting to the Moroccan population’. However, the court decided not to fine or sentence Wilders on the basis that a criminal conviction was sufficient punishment in itself.  More >

Suicide rate drops among men and teens

There was a significant drop in the number of men and teenagers committing suicide in the Netherlands last year, but a slight rise in the number of women ending their lives, the national statistics office CBS said on Tuesday. In total, 1,176 men committed suicide, a drop of 10% on 2017. Among teenagers the number of suicide deaths fell from 81 in 2017 to 51. Slightly more women killed themselves, taking the national total to 1,829. The reduction last year means the number of suicides is back at the 2012 level of 10.6 per 100,000. In the early 1980s the rate was as high as 14.5 per 100,000, the CBS said. If you, or someone you know, needs help, you can contact 0900 0113 (available 24/7) or to go website  More >

Terror threat level held at 'substantial'

The risk of a terrorist attack in the Netherlands remains 'substantial' following the tram shooting in Utrecht in March and a number of arrests, counter-terrorism officials say. The official threat level stands at 4 on a scale of 5, meaning there is a real risk of a terror attack taking place. The National Co-Ordinator for Counter-Terrorism and Security (NCTV) said that recent documents had emerged indicating that the Islamist movement IS was focusing its efforts on attacks in the west now that it now longer controls any territory in the Middle East. IS remains 'capable of mobilising the global jihadist movement,' said the NCTV, though it added that the group's capacity to carry out a large-scale attack was diminishing. 'The number of attacks in the West is low, but the intention remains,' it said. Four people died on March 18 when a lone gunman opened fire in a commuter tram near Utrecht's central station. A 37-year-old man, Gökmen Tanis, was arrested and has confessed to the crime, said police. He claims to have acted alone.  More >

Parking scanners drive up fine levels

The amount collected in parking fines in the Netherlands' major cities has shot up since councils began using mobile scanners, according to a survey by AD. In some municipalities the number of fines issued trebled in the year after cars mounted with rooftop cameras began scouring parking bays for unregistered vehicles. In Amsterdam, which deployed its first scanners in 2013, the total collected has risen from €156 million to €216 million in five years, while the number of tickets issued went up from 18.5 million to 30 million. Rotterdam recorded an 86% increase in the number of parking fines between 2014 and 2016, from 177,859 to 330,326. In The Hague, which began using scanners in 2015, the figure has gone up by 50% in three years to 236,199, raking in €15.1 million. Utrecht, the first city to use mobile scanners in 2009, acquired a second vehicle in 2017 and reported a 17.5 increase in the number of parking tickets in the last two years to 47,000. Utrecht also said that the amount collected by parking meters had gone up from €18 million to €24 million a year as drivers are less likely to take a chance on not buying a ticket. Bert van Wee, professor of transport policy at TU Delft, told AD that automatic checks had made parking a lucrative source of income for councils. 'Checks are cheaper, more money is coming in from fines and because people know they're more likely to be caught, they're quicker to pay the parking fee.'  More >

Syrian fighter in battle to keep passport

Statue of justice. A court is due to decide whether a 25-year-old man who fought in the civil war in Syria should have his passport revoked even though he is no longer seen as a terrorist threat. Maher H. has been in an 18-month legal battle to retain his Dutch nationality since the government adopted a policy of expelling as many Syrian combatants from the country as possible. Maher has served two years of a four-year prison sentence imposed in 2014 for committing terrorist offences. He initially claimed he had worked for a Turkish aid agency in the conflict zone, but admitted during his appeal hearing that he had fought on the battlefield. In 2018 his name was removed from the national terrorism watchlist, indicating that the authorities no longer regard him as a threat to security. In an interview with NRC, Maher said he had co-operated with efforts to reintegrate him into society, including therapy to deal with his trauma, and had found a job with a telecoms company. Moroccan nationality Maher has a Moroccan passport as well as a Dutch one, as Moroccan citizens are banned from renouncing their nationality. 'My family, my two children live here,' he said. 'What am I supposed to do in Morocco? I've absolutely no idea.' He said the prospect of having to leave was interfering with the parole board's efforts to rehabilitate him. 'Every conversation I had with them focused on how I saw my future in the Netherlands. They encouraged me to apply for jobs and courses. But how can I work on my future if I'm about to be thrown out of the country?' Maher said he travelled to Syria as a 'naive' 19-year-old, after hearing stories of the atrocities committed by the country's president Bashar Al-Assad. 'I see the Syrian people as my Islamic brothers. In my religion it is a duty to help them. Rebels 'like gangsters' He quickly saw that the 'romanticised' picture he had been sold of the rebels' struggle bore little relation to reality. 'They behaved like gangs. Instead of fighting Assad, they fought each other to claim the upper hand in an area. Citizens had to flee their homes because of their internecine rows. That wasn't what I signed up for.' A judge is due to decide on Monday if a full hearing should be heard of Maher's case. His lawyer, Flip Schüller, has gathered reports from official sources including the security service AIVD and parole supervisors in support of his argument that revoking Maher's passport would render the time and effort spent on his rehabilitation worthless. A spokesman for the parole service told NRC: 'In general, we regard the move to revoke Dutch nationality as detrimental to the reintegration process.' The justice ministry did not comment to the newspaper because the case is ongoing.  More >