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Belgium’s far-right prodigy gets prison term for inciting violence

Belgium’s far-right prodigy gets prison term for inciting violence

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A key figure in the Belgian far right was sentenced Tuesday morning to a year in prison and handed a heavy fine.

Dries Van Langenhove, a political activist and leader of a Flemish-nationalist youth movement called Schild & Vrienden, was convicted of inciting violence and denying the Holocaust, the Ghent criminal court ruled Tuesday morning.

Van Langenhove as well as six other members of his far-right youth movement were tried on various charges including hatred, racism, Holocaust denial and breaching a local gun law. Five of the other members that stood trial received suspended prison sentences.

The 30-year-old Van Langenhove “revelled in Nazi ideas that cause much suffering. He wants to undermine society,” a judge said when announcing the ruling.

The leader of Schild & Vrienden rose to fame as a political prodigy in the late 2010s, organizing far right-minded youngsters in online chat groups and through protests. A 2018 TV report by public broadcaster VRT showed that members of the group were exchanging racist and antisemitic messages in group chats, triggering a judicial investigation into the movement.

Van Langenhove ran for elected office in 2019 and sat in the country’s federal parliament from 2019-2023 as an independent member in the political group of Vlaams Belang, Flanders’ main far-right party that wields an anti-immigrant rhetoric and wants to turn Flanders into a fully independent, breakaway state.

According to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls, Vlaams Belang is now the biggest political force in Belgium. Elections are due in June 2024. Van Langenhove left his seat in parliament in 2023 to focus on political activism.

The judgment also deprived Van Langenhove of certain civil rights for a period of 10 years, during which he won’t be able to serve in public office or run in elections. He will also have to pay a €16,000 fine and received a separate, 10 month suspended prison sentence.

Van Langenhove’s lawyer told local media that he will appeal the ruling.

The leader of Vlaams Belang, Tom Van Grieken, hit out at the ruling, saying “Belgian justice is rotten through and through … From Day 1, this has been a political trial.”

One of Belgium’s most prominent human rights organizations, the Human Rights League, was a party in the case. Its lawyer said the ruling “counts as a clear signal.”

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