Racism and negationism: Van Langenhove sentenced to prison and fined

Racism and negationism: Van Langenhove sentenced to prison and fined
Dries Van Langenhove, former Vlaams Belang MP, in 2020. Credit: Belga/ Laurie Dieffembacq

Dries Van Langenhove, the founder of the far-right movement Schild & Vrienden, has been sentenced to a one-year effective prison term for violations of the racism and negationism law.

The Ghent correctional court announced its sentence for Van Langenhove, a former MP for the Flemish far-right party Vlaams Belang, on Tuesday. He has been given up to one year of effective imprisonment for violations of the racism and negationism law, including denying the Holocaust.

He also has to pay a €16,000 fine and loses ten years of his civil rights, taking away his right to vote, but also the right to be elected or hold public office. He was also handed down ten months of suspended imprisonment for violations of the weapons law. Van Langenhove was again not present at the hearing.

The final sentence is more lenient than what was initially requested by the prosecution (a two-year prison sentence and a fine of €24,000). However, the Ghent court judge used strong language in the sentencing, stating that the accused was "an instigator of racism and negationism."

The judge also spoke of "criminal behaviour" and contributing to hate speech and violence. "He creates a hostile atmosphere in society. He contributes to antagonism, discord and conflict and thus fosters physical and psychological violence. All this points to a particularly dangerous mindset."

'Bigoted racism'

The verdict has long been awaited. The criminal investigation started more than five years after a VRT Pano report showed that racist and antisemitic messages were shared in secret chat groups of Schild & Vrienden. In June 2019, Van Langenhove was officially put under suspicion.

Before the trial, several people and institutions have taken civil sides, believing they are victims of the group, including the equal opportunities organisation Unia, the Human Rights League and Ghent University. Former magistrate Henri Heimans, whose parents survived Nazi concentration camps, also declared himself a civil party.

"I am not euphoric, but I am satisfied with the verdict and especially with the justification of the verdict," he told VRT after the verdict was announced. "The court says that bigoted racism sets society against each other. That is substantiated in the verdict, which I think is the most important thing."

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Five of the six other defendants, also members of the far-right movement, received jail terms with deferments of six to eight months and effective fines of €8,000.

The final defendant received a suspended sentence with conditions, including an escorted visit to the Dossin Kazerne in Mechelen, which between 1942 and 1944 served as an assembly camp for thousands of Jews and Roma people before they were sent to concentration camps.

Today likely won't mark the end of this case, which has lasted for over five years, as Hans Rieder, Van Langenhove's lawyer, will immediately appeal the verdict.

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