Flemish activists receive prison sentences for ‘Stop Islamization’ banner
Four members of the conservative group Voorpost were sentenced for inciting hate and violence because of a banner announcing “Stop Islamization”. This is the latest attack on Flemish conservatives from a hostile Belgian elite ahead of the election.
Published: June 5, 2021, 9:12 am
The banner in question was held up at a protest in February of last year, reported Flemish news service VRT. The criminal court of Mechelen has sentenced four members of the conservative organization Voorpost for incitement of hate and violence during a protest in May 2020. On a banner under the words “Stop Islamization” were pictured some women in burkas or niqabs, and this combination, according to the court, went too far. Various Parliament members from Vlaams Belang have protested against the verdict in Mechelen.
— Filip Dewinter (@FDW_VB) June 1, 2021
On Saturday 30 May, 2020, at the Saturday Market in Mechelen, Voorpost held a protest against what they described as increasing Islamization. There some members also held up a banner with the words “Stop Islamization”. Under the words was depicted a row of women wearing niqabs and a second row of women with burkas.
According to the criminal court in Mechelen, the slogan and images went too far. “By having such signs and banners, the accused have the aim of instilling fear and creating hate in society by convincing onlookers of the idea that Islam may in the future dominate Flanders,” the verdict reads.
They were accused of creating an imagined danger whereby each woman, as a result of Islamization, would be forced to wear a burka or niqab. Such ideas attempt to feed on the fear and hate against Muslim society or to awaken it, so that others will be incited to engage in similar hateful and fear-mongering behaviour, the court maintained.
The four members of Voorpost were all sentenced to six months imprisonment. For three of them, this was suspended; for one the sentence went into effect. Their lawyer, Luc Deceuninck, will now look into whether they will appeal, but it seems probable. “This was just freedom of speech, a political statement, nothing else,” said Deceuninck in an initial reaction to the judgment.
“If someone says stop Islamization, they are not saying stop Islam. They are saying: Stop the pervasive influence of certain Islamic customs in our society. That is what they mean. The court actually did not answer our arguments,” said the displeased lawyer.
Vlaams Belang campaigns for free speech
Several parliamentarians from Vlaams Belang have protested in Mechelen against the verdict of the criminal court of Mechelen. On the Grand Market they unfurled banners with the same message, while holding up posters with the message, “Stop censorship”.
“The criminal conviction of the four Voorpost-activists is far beyond a miscarriage of justice. This is an attack on free speech, democracy, and the possibility of having an opposition. The resistance against Islamization is not an incitement to hate or violence. That is just freedom of speech. That is protecting what is dear to us, our identity,” said the Vlaams Belang chairman Tom Van Grieken.
Among those present were most of the leaders of the party, such as chairman Tom Van Grieken, federal group leader Barbara Pas, European Parliament member Gerolf Annemans, and some 25 Parliament members, including Flemish Parliament members Filip Dewinter, Sam Van Rooy, Anke Van Dermeersch, and Guy D’haeseleer.
The hoax of a ‘far-right threat’
On Monday evening, the Belgian head office of DPG Media was hastily evacuated. Five “extreme right” Dutchmen in a black Jeep were allegedly on their way to an editorial office in Antwerp. A day later, serious doubts were expressed about this so-called “threat”.
Belgium has been under the spell of the elusive search for the armed soldier Jürgen Conings. He is said to have been preparing attacks on a prominent virologist, a mosque and the Belgian government, but critics believe that this may be an election stunt to save the struggling system parties.
After receiving a Dutch 112 report on Monday afternoon of a possible attack in Antwerp, the authorities responded quickly. The office of DPG Media, the parent company of the daily newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws and TV channel VTM, was thus evacuated and a safety corridor was set up around the building while dogs were used to search for explosives.
The press soon started talking about an “extreme right-wing” Dutch group behind the threat. Belgian police sources told VTM crime reporter Faroek Özgüne that members of the “Freedom Fighters The Netherlands” may have placed a bomb in the media building. Plans were allegedly afoot to travel from the Netherlands to Belgium with a vigilante group, consisting of five well-trained paramilitaries who wanted to drive to the DPG headquarters in a black Jeep. In Antwerp, these Dutch extremists had discovered the hide-out of Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst.
Van Ranst’s presence on social media has stood out in the Netherlands. He regularly launches vicious attacks on Corona sceptics and Big Pharma critics.
A day later concerns arose in the media about how serious this alleged “Dutch threat” was. No explosives were found in the office after the eviction. The Freedom Fighters have never attracted any attention. On Telegram and Facebook they denounce Corona measures or the “elite” beholden to the banking system. There are certainly no “far-right” posts found on any of their accounts. Instead, the group cites facts and news reports.
A spokesperson for DPG said on Tuesday that there was no longer an “acute threat” and that the security measures were being phased out. No arrests have been made. The Dutch police see no reason to conduct further investigations, unless a request comes from Belgium. That request has not yet arrived.
Was the Belgian reaction on Monday evening exaggerated? The Dutch police spokesman grinned and responded: “Could be.”
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