Virologist Marc Van Ranst has won a case brought against him by Dutch corona-sceptic Willem Engel, and will donate the €4,000 award from the court to Unicef, he announced.
Engel had originally taken Van Ranst to court for defamation, after Van Ranst had described him on TV news as a “corona denier”. The court found the accusation without grounds, and ordered Engel to pay compensation for a “provocative and reckless” lawsuit.
The two men were not meeting in court for the first time. Engel had previously lost a similar case – which gave rise to the comments on TV – over comments made by Van Ranst in the press.
In Belgium, defamation cases involving the press are heard in the assises court before a jury, a rule that is intended to provide a protection against official persecution. Engel tried again in the correctional court, where such protection for a TV interview does not exist. But his second attempt was not successful.
"Just because Mr. Engel doesn't like being called a virus denier doesn't mean people shouldn't say that," Van Ranst said in the interview.
In the second case, the public prosecutor disagreed there was evidence of defamation. Van Ranst pointed out that the comment on VTM had come only minutes after he was cleared by the first court, so the two cases could not be considered separate.
And he accused Engel of persecution.
“He is misusing my time, but also of that of the courts, with these procedures. This threatens my credibility as an academic. And that is exactly what Mr Engel and his supporters are after. Not on winning a lawsuit." He also asked for compensation of €7,000.
The three-man bench agreed he had no case to answer, and dismissed the Engel suit. They also awarded Van Ranst €4,000 in compensation for what it considered a frivolous lawsuit. Van Ranst will donate the money to Unicef’s Covax programme, which provides vaccines for poorer countries who cannot afford their own.
Engel, meanwhile, said he would undertake no more lawsuits for the protection of his reputation. However at the same time, he admitted he intended to appeal against the dismissal of his previous case over the newspaper comments.