Flemish Politician Sentenced for Racism and Denialism in Landmark Ruling: What It Means for Free Speech

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

In a landmark ruling, a Ghent court has sentenced Flemish politician Dries Van Langenhove to a one-year prison term and a fine of 16,000 euros for violating laws on racism and denialism. The court also suspended his political rights for 10 years and revoked his right to hold public office for the next five years.

The case against Van Langenhove began in 2018 when a television report exposed the racist and denialist comments exchanged in private Facebook and Discord groups, where he had founded a group called Schild & Vrienden. The court found that Van Langenhove had attracted others to his racist speech and created a hostile atmosphere in society. He was convicted of inciting hatred and discrimination, along with six other members of the group.

Van Langenhove is associated with the far-right party Vlaams Belang, which has defended its members by claiming that justice in Belgium is corrupt. However, the judges found that Van Langenhove’s behavior led to harassment and abuse of individuals like Jihad Van Puymbroeck and writer Dalilla Hermans.

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

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