Threats to politicians are the order of the day

News reports abound of politicians being threatened, especially online. In fact, the Dutch public prosecution service (OM) has said that there were 1125 reports of threats to politicians last year – and these were only threats that were reported to police. This is a new record, with almost twice the number of cases than the year before.

Wilders the main target
More than half of the reported threats were directed at PVV leader Geert Wilders. The reason for this could be seen in the politically controversial remarks made by Wilders over the years. Ever since Wilders released his Islam-critical film Fitna in 2008, tweets from the PVV leader have aroused anger in the country. Interesting to note is that 600 of the threats reported in 2022 originated from outside the Netherlands, most from Pakistan. Although Wilders has regularly expressed his frustration that perpetrators in his cases are not prosecuted, a case has been brought recently against the ex-cricket Pakistani pro, Khalid Latif, who had put a price of 20,000 euros on Wilders’ head. Although the OM is trying to prosecute him, he is not expected to come to the Netherlands for the trial. Since the Netherlands has no extradition treaty with Pakistan, it is impossible to force Latif to appear. A court hearing will nevertheless start in the Netherlands at the end of August.

The role of social media
Of these, 889 cases that were ultimately judged to be punishable by law, but prosecution is not easy because social media platforms are not always able provide information about the perpetrators. Twitter and Instagram are the social media platforms most often used for online threats. The president of the House of Representatives, Vera Bergkamp, said thatvideos and photos with death threats are regularly shared on Twitter, calling for violence and sometimes even murder. She expressed great concern about these tweets regarding members of the House, and reminded Twitter in a letter of its responsibility to ensure safety on the platform. Although in the past, Twitter had not always cooperated by providing data about users who have anonymous profiles, it has lately changed its stance by providing such information when needed – but users are often hard to identify and harder to find. As a result of the difficulty of persecuting such cases, the OM had to drop a total of 712 cases.

In total, only 37 reports resulted in criminal cases, while 127 were still in the investigation process. One of the heaviest sentences handed down was to Max van den B., who turned up last year with a burning torch at the home of Minister of Finance Sigrid Kaag. He was sentenced to five months in prison, and community service of 120 hours. Currently, seven other suspects, who have threatened Prime Minister Mark Rutte and ministers such as Hugo de Jonge, Wopke Hoekstra and Sigrid Kaag, are waiting to appear in court.

Tracking the threateners
Since the exact number of threats that are actually made is not recorded, the OM can only take action if politicians report a threat themselves. However, the OM intervenes immediately in the case of threatening situations or public unrest. When threats originate in the Netherlands, the police can track down the perpetrators. Often, they claim to have been hacked and deny sending the threats. However, some even confess their crimes, as they are convinced that some politicians are evil and a danger to the country. It’s interesting to see that some people who have sent threats are elderly people, who seemed like decent citizens. After being tracked down, they often say they acted in a fit of anger. On the other hand, some perpetrators are very young: the youngest tracked down by the police was an 11-year-old. The OM had started talks with his family.

The increase in the number of reports has caused capacity problems for the dedicated Threatened Politicians Team, since it has limited time to investigate and could only bring a small number of cases to court. The backlog of 127 cases still under investigation causes delays in taking on new investigations.

The increase in threats is a setback for the cabinet, which has been trying to reduce the number for a few years now through public campaigns aiming to reduce polarization. Although the OM had hoped that the number of threats would decrease after the Covid pandemic, numbers so far show that has not yet been the case.

Written by Stephen Swai