The prosecutor’s office for East Flanders has officially filed for the lifting of parliamentary immunity in the case of Dries Van Langenhove (VB), a member of the federal parliament.
The request comes as the latest development in the investigation into the extreme right-wing organisation calling itself Schild & Vrienden.
Van Langenhove set up the group in 2017, at around the same time as he began protesting against the cancellation of a lecture by N-VA politician Theo Francken at the Free University of Brussels (VUB), which had been shut down by left-wing protests. Francken at the time was secretary of state for asylum and migration matters.
At the elections in 2019, Van Langenhove stood as an independent candidate, but leading the list of Vlaams Belang, despite never having been a member of the party. He was elected to parliament.
Before then, however, he and his group had been the subject of an investigation by the VRT documentary series Pano, which revealed that the group and Van Langenhove himself had committed offences against the law against racist speech, the law against negationism (denying the Holocaust) and the firearms law.
The name Schild & Vrienden has its origins in a shibboleth – a phrase that goes back to 1302, and the massacre of a garrison of French troops by a Flemish militia which finally led to the defeat of the French at the Battle of the Golden Spurs.
The phrase ‘schild en vriend’ was a sort of password among the militia, chosen on the principle that even if a Frenchman knew what to say, he would immediately betray himself by the way he pronounced it.
The Pano reportage led to the investigation by the East Flanders prosecutor, which has now reached a stage where the office considers it has enough evidence to bring charges against Van Langenhove. But that requires first the lifting of his parliamentary immunity.
According to the petition brought by the prosecutor-general of East Flanders, Van Langenhove should face charges of breaches of the anti-racism law and the firearms law, the charge relating to the law on negationism now being dropped. Other members of the group will face those charges, however.
What happens now is this: the parliamentary committee for prosecutions will meet to consider the petition from the prosecutor-general. Based on that, it will then decide whether the proposal should be brought before the full parliament, which will then decide on a simple majority.