The government crisis centre last year opened 54 cases of people who were considered to be in serious danger as a result of the exercise of their profession. The list is compiled mainly of politicians, police officers and magistrates, but also includes a priest. Fernand Maréchal, parish priest in Zeebrugge, received death threats for his policy of welcoming and defending trans-migrants – illegal migrants aiming to cross to the United Kingdom. “Your days are numbered,” read one message. “You won’t be walking around much longer.
Politicians are a popular target, particularly the more outspoken ones. Het Nieuwsblad describes N-VA ex-minister Theo Francken and Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever (also N-VA) as well as Filip Dewinter (Vlaams Belang) as “regular customers”.
The crisis centre refuses to give the names of victims of threats, nor to say what follow-up is given. What is known, however, is that 141 Belgians are currently under special protection. The 54 were new cases opened last year, a record number for a single year.
“To be clear, we’re talking about serious threats,” a spokesperson for the centre told the paper. “These are not love rivals threatening a punch on the nose if they don’t leave the wife alone. The cases we handle concern people facing a serious threat related to the exercise of their profession.”
Regardless of the centre’s operational discretion, the media often carries reports. For example, N-VA politician Zuhal Demir (photo)and her infant daughter received death threats. “Threatening a child only months old is taking things a bit far,” the spokesperson said. “Nevertheless it happens.” Demir, whose family is of Kurdish Turkish origins, is a target for Turkish nationalist forces who are strong in her native Genk. In December, a 37-year-old man from Beringen was fined for posting hate messages on Facebook, calling for her house to be destroyed and her life “made unbearable”.
“If we’re informed of threats against someone, we contact the intelligence services who evaluate the risk. On that basis we decide what measures to take.” That can range from increased police patrols in the person’s street, to the establishment of a contact person with the police, and in extreme cases to a permanent detail on watch or even “close protection” – the typical view of an armed bodyguard, accompanying the victim round the clock until the author of the threats is arrested.