In the arms of the law (1991)

A film by Barbara den Uyl

In 1985, the main core of the squatter’s movement had been active in the Staatsliedenbuurt in Amsterdam for many years. The new mayor, Ed van Thijn, was determined to break the stronghold of the movement. During a heavy-handed eviction, 32 squatters were arrested. The following day, one of them, 23-year-old Hans Kok, was found dead in his police cell. A picture taken of him immediately after his arrest showed him in good health provocatively making a V-sign at the camera; 20 hours later he was dead. How is this possible? What happened during the intervening hours? This is the central question that ‘In the Name of the Law’ poses, drawing on the official reports that were made at the time.
It soon becomes evident that Hans Kok was locked up in a freezing cold cell without any blankets. Then it comes out that he did not get any breakfast, even though the police initially said he had. He was not found until the afternoon, by which time he must have been dead for hours.
Two independent doctors later claimed that Hans Kok would probably still be alive if he had been admitted to hospital in time. The film gradually focuses on why no doctor was called for Hans Kok at the critical time.
Is it because, early in the evening, a doctor had come but noticed no symptoms?
Or because it was too busy and chaotic that evening to pay attention to all those who had been arrested?
Is it because his symptoms were not recognisable?
Or because the police were not interested in the health of a person arrested during a heavy handed eviction in a neighbourhood that had caused the police so much trouble for years? Many of the people involved appear on screen: Hans Kok’s brother-in-law, a number of Hans’ friends, his lawyer, the doctor, the mayor of Amsterdam (Ed van Thijn) and the then minister of Justice (Korthals Altes). The police did not cooperate. Their place is taken by actors, some of whom are professionals, others occasional actors. The use of official, written texts continually reminds us that this incident truly happened. Also noteworthy is the use of both documentary and feature film styles, as well as archive material.The film not only portrays an image of the police and the authorities, but also of Hans Kok and his generation. It gives a detailed analysis of ‘the Hans Kok case’ and a timeless image of institutional frameworks.

This film is available on DVD




64 minutes / colour / optical and magnetic sound / 16mm / VHS / Beta SP
Direction / screenplay: Barbara den Uyl
Cast: Martijn Oversteegen, Pieter van den Waterbeemt, Lex van Weeren, Geert Bos, Henk Kersting, Frank van der Knoop, en vele anderen
Camera: Frans Bromet
Grip: Eric Schut
Sound: Bert Flantua
Editor: Hens van Rooy
Art direction: Jaap Witzenhausen
Producer: Leen van den Berg

This film was made with the financial support of the Dutch Film Fund and the CoBO fonds

© Van der Hoop Filmproducties / NOS 1991