THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch court convicted 20 people Thursday of insulting or threatening a politician and television personality in a racially charged case that shocked the nation.
The verdicts came in the trial in Amsterdam of 21 people accused of targeting Sylvana Simons, who is a former dancer and television presenter of Surinamese descent, with a torrent of online racist abuse last year. One person was acquitted.
The court said in a statement that the heaviest sentence, 80 hours of community service, went to a man who superimposed the head of Simons on video images of a Ku Klux Klan lynching. Others were given shorter work orders or fines.
“Many people saw the video and were confronted with discriminatory images of people with dark skin,” the court said.
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Simons stood as a candidate in the Netherlands’ March 15 elections but didn’t win enough support for a parliamentary seat. Much of the online abuse she faced came after she earlier announced she was joining a party called Denk, (Think) which is led by two Turkish-Dutch lawmakers.
She left the party a few months later and formed her own political group, called Artikel 1, a reference to the first article of the Dutch constitution, which guarantees equality and outlaws all forms of discrimination. The group welcomed the verdicts, tweeting that they sent a “clear signal” about the limits of freedom of speech.
The court also underscored that aspect of the ruling.
“Expressing opinions is acceptable, there is a large amount of freedom, especially when it is part of a debate in society,” the court said in a statement. “But when the opinion is an insult, threat, incitement or discrimination, then it becomes criminal behavior.”