Hate speech probe launched after mass prayer for late Brussels Muslim leader

Hate speech probe launched after mass prayer for late Brussels Muslim leader
Thousands gathered for a public prayer to mourn a well-known Brussels Muslim preacher on Monday. Credit: Youtube screengrab

Belgium's anti-discrimination centre is investigating several reports of hate speech addressed to participants of a mass prayer staged in Brussels in honour of a deceased Muslim preacher.

Unia said it was looking into at least seven complaints regarding messages posted online after thousands in Brussels joined in a public mass prayer on Monday.

Some of the messages included calls to run over the prayer-goers with a vehicle, while another one called for grenades to be thrown at them.

The funeral event, organised on Monday in a Molenbeek mosque, was moved outside following a mass turn out to mourn Rachid Haddach, a well-known Muslim preacher, teacher and community leader.

At least 5,000 people showed up to bid farewell to Haddach, with police having to close the street down and divert traffic.

On Twitter, far-right party Vlaams Belang posted images of the prayer, calling the event "hallucinating" and referring to Haddach as a "Salafist hate preacher."

Haddach, dead at 49, was an active preacher who often volunteered at schools and local mosques and earned a "big brother" reputation with many young Muslims in Brussels.

"He taught me to never reply to hate with more hate," Oussama Karan Ziani, one of the people who filed a complaint with Unia, told La Libre.

The preacher was also active as a vlogger on YouTube, where he had grown a following of over 60,000 subscribers, including from across the international Francophone Muslim community.

Haddach has been accused of belonging to the ultra-conservative Salafist movement, a claim which he denied and which was also rejected by a self-proclaimed Salafist leader, who called Haddach an "enemy" of the movement.

A spokesperson with Unia said that the complaints, on grounds of incitement to hatred, violence or discrimination, could see the offenders risk between one month and one-year imprisonment and a fine of up to €1,000.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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