Belgian politician receives unprecedented sentence for racist speech in private online groups

Harsh criticism of Flemish “denialist agitator” who hides hate with humor and memes

Flemish politician Dries Van Langenhove has been sentenced to a one-year prison term and a fine of 16,000 euros for violating laws on racism and denialism. Additionally, he received a suspended sentence for violating the Weapons Law and his political rights were revoked for 10 years. This punishment is considered one of the most severe as punishments for apologizing for Nazism are usually lenient. However, the crimes were not committed in public forums but rather in private Facebook or Discord groups where jokes were made.

Van Langenhove, who is associated with the far-right party Vlaams Belang, founded a group called Schild & Vrienden which promoted racist ideologies. The court found that he attracted others to his racist speech and created a hostile atmosphere in society. Along with six other members of the group, Van Langenhove was convicted of inciting hatred and discrimination. Vlaams Belang has defended its members claiming that justice in Belgium is corrupt.

The case began in 2018 when a television report exposed the racist and denialist comments exchanged in the group. The court’s decision was based on laws prohibiting denial of the Nazi genocide and acts inspired by racism and xenophobia. The judges concluded that the group had engaged in hate speech and discriminatory behavior targeting individuals based on their race and religion leading to harassment and abuse of individuals like Jihad Van Puymbroeck and writer Dalilla Hermans.

The court’s ruling highlights the seriousness of hate speech and discrimination even when communicated through private channels or disguised as jokes challenging the notion that offensive speech is protected under freedom of expression. It serves as a reminder that hate, abuse, harassment, and discrimination have no place in society regardless of how they are communicated.

In conclusion, this case sends a clear message to those who engage in hate speech or discriminatory behavior that such actions will not be tolerated even if they are communicated through private channels or disguised as jokes. The court’s ruling underscores the importance of protecting individuals from harassment and abuse based on their race or religion while respecting freedom of expression rights within legal limits.

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