Twenty-four suspects on trial for posting inflammatory comments to a live stream of journalist Clarice Gargard two years ago have been sentenced to community service and fines. It concerns community service orders between 28 and 58 hours and fines ranging from 300 to 450 euros.
In eighteen cases there was talk of ‘incitement’ and another three suspects were guilty of discrimination, the judge ruled. Two more people were convicted of inciting discrimination, and one suspect was sentenced for insult. Fifteen suspects also have to pay compensation to Gargard, ranging from 50 to 150 euros.
The suspects had to go to court because, according to the judiciary, they had placed inflammatory and discriminatory texts under a live stream of Gargard on Facebook, of a demonstration in 2018 against Zwarte Piet at the entry of Sinterklaas in Amstelveen.
Gargard was threatened with a ‘shot in the neck’ in the reactions. The columnist then filed a report and the police and judicial authorities started an investigation. In total, 25 suspects – 21 men and 4 women – had to appear in court. In one case, the judge could not determine whether the suspect had posted the response himself.
Hurting about black people
“All suspects used foul language in their comments and some were very hurtful towards black people,” the court ruled. Those messages had “a significant impact” on the columnist.
With the reports, some suspects incited assault and even murder and manslaughter of the protesters, the verdict says. “Fortunately this did not actually happen, but they could have given someone the idea.”
In total there were about 7,600 responses to the livestream, of which the judiciary eventually investigated 200. According to the court, many more messages may have been punishable.
The Public Prosecution Service is satisfied with the decision. According to the OM, the verdict shows that freedom of expression has limits, and where these limits lie.
‘No place for racism in public debate’
Gargard is also pleased with the ruling, her lawyer Sidney Smeets says: “We are pleased that the court has made it clear that racism and discrimination have no place in the public debate and that these are serious facts that deserve a serious punishment.” He points out that the verdict recognizes that discriminatory statements have a major impact on the victim.
According to Smeets, the police and the judiciary should take such matters “much more seriously and faster”. He points out that Gargard himself made a selection of the messages and reported it. But the lawyer believes that the police should have investigated all reactions. “Perhaps more prosecutions or a different selection would have come out.”