Prominent Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst has been sued for slander and defamation by the well-known Dutch anti-vaxxer Willem Engel, who has been highly critical of the coronavirus policy in the Netherlands and Belgium.
On Wednesday, Van Ranst appeared before the judge in Mechelen, following a complaint from Engel, who is the founder of the Viruswaarheid ("Virus truth") protest group, which organised several protests against the Dutch coronavirus measures over the course of the pandemic.
According to Engel, Van Ranst wrongly called him "a virus denier" and "a fraud" in an interview, as well as placed him and his action group in a bad light.
By means of a direct subpoena, Engel brought Van Ranst to court, after Van Ranst tweeted that "if we are ever faced with a salsa pandemic, I will gladly listen to what you dance teachers have to say. However, at the moment, I do not give a flying fuck about what you say, and neither should the Netherlands."
Wanneer we ooit geconfronteerd worden met een salsapandemie, ga ik met veel plezier luisteren naar wat jij als dansleraar te zeggen hebt. Echter, op dit moment geef ik geen flying fuck om wat jij uitkraamt, en Nederland zou dat best ook niet doen.
— Marc Van Ranst (@vanranstmarc) May 19, 2021
Engel now wants a clear framework in which the court determines to what extent free speech can be used in the discussion between the two.
"There has to be an end to demonising people who are critical of the policy," Engel told the Belga news agency. "I think it is fine to have the debate but it has to stay within certain frameworks."
"I do not have a problem with personal accusations, but I do have a problem with the aim to stop our movement, the association with terror and the extreme right, and the ridiculing of our movement with the aim of preventing us from getting our platform," he added.
According to Van Ranst, it is an abuse of procedural law to start a lawsuit about this. "Anyone can file a complaint with a civil action against anybody, it is really insane sometimes. This has to stop," he told VRT.
"He has called me a communist, an extremist, a 'schorriemorrie' (roughly translated from Dutch as 'scum'), Holle Bolle Gijs, not a scientist ... and has gone much further than I have," Van Ranst said.
"Engel denies being a virus denier, but also [denies] the existence of the epidemic, the pandemic, the efficacy of vaccines, the usefulness of PCR..."
The case could not be heard on Wednesday because a deposit must first be set by the court. That deposit (€250) guarantees that the costs incurred in bringing the case to court will be reimbursed.
The case will be resumed on 11 August.