A court in The Hague has told the Dutch government that an overnight curfew to reduce the spread of COVID-19 should be lifted immediately.
The case was launched by the Viruswaarheid (Virus Truth) group, which has led a series of protests against coronavirus measures in the Netherlands.
The court said the 21:00 to 04:30 curfew was imposed by an emergency law when there was no “acute emergency”.
The court also said that the restriction breaches the right to free movement, while the Dutch government has asked the court to suspend its decision ahead of an appeal.
In their ruling on Tuesday 16 February, the Dutch judges said the curfew had been imposed under an emergency law, even though the court said there was no emergency as in the case of a “dyke being breached”.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has urged people to follow the curfew, even if ministers fail to stop it being lifted.
“We haven’t for a second considered scrapping the curfew as it is simply necessary,” said Rutte, who described the ruling as a setback.
The cabinet is understood to be urgently working on a new law to enforce the curfew, but that could take time.
Viruswaarheid founder Willem Engel hailed the ruling. “I’ve had hundreds, thousands of messages of congratulations. People are very happy, they feel liberated,” he said. “Of course we’re not there yet, we have many more steps to go, but I think that there will be some joyful demonstrations here and there this evening.”
The curfew began on 23 January and was extended last week until 2 March.
Three nights of riots erupted on the weekend it started, with police using water cannon and teargas against protesters in cities including Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Eindhoven.
They were the most serious riots in the Netherlands for 40 years and led to dozens of arrests.
Curfews have been widely used in Europe to restrict movement. France has had a nightly curfew from 18:00 but has stopped short of imposing a third lockdown. Greece has also imposed curfews, as have Spain and Italy.