Former Parliament Member Gets a Year in Prison

( – A former Belgian politician has been jailed for a year on hate speech charges. Flemish separatist Dries Van Langenhove, who spent four years in the country’s parliament, claimed he’d been making jokes on social media. Prosecutors argued he was promoting Nazi ideology and white supremacy.

At just 30 years old, Van Langenhove is one of Belgium’s younger politicians. He’s also one of the more extreme ones. When he was at university he was an activist for a Flemish nationalist group that wanted the northern Flanders region of Belgium to separate from the French-speaking south.

In 2019, he ran for election to parliament as part of the nationalist Vlaams Belang party — even though he wasn’t actually a member of it — and was elected. However, last February he announced that he thought activism was a better way to get things done than politics, and resigned from parliament.

Although Van Langenhove didn’t mention it, it’s possible another reason for his resignation was a legal issue dating back to 2020, when a court began investigating a youth group he’d set up. Investigative journalists had penetrated secret social media groups run by the group and found that members were sharing racist, sexist, and antisemitic jokes as well as pro-Nazi comments and incitement to violence. Van Langenhove managed to get one judge to recuse herself because of her political bias, but in September 2023 he went on trial in front of a new judge.

In court, Van Langenhove’s lawyers claimed the jokes had no significance, but on March 13 Ghent Criminal Court decided he was “infatuated with Nazi ideas” and was determined to undermine Belgian democracy. Belgium, which was occupied by Nazi Germany between 1940 and 1944, still has strict laws against glorifying Nazism or denying the Holocaust. Van Langenhove has now been sentenced to one year in prison, fined €16,000 (around $17,500), and banned from holding public office for ten years.

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