The police arrested Willem Engel in Rotterdam on Wednesday for incitement, lawyer Jeroen Pols confirmed on Twitter. The 45-year-old is suspected of posting seditionist coronavirus-related statements on social media over an extended period, the Public Prosecution Service (OM) said. He will be arraigned on Friday.
Pols represents Viruswaarheid, a Covid-denying action group founded by Engel. “The Rutte regime is fully attacking critics and opposition,” Pols tweeted. “Meanwhile, they have a big mouth about democracy in Russia.”
The Public Prosecution Service (OM) confirmed in January that Engel was under investigation after nearly 23,000 people answered a call to press charges against him. The campaign was launched by activist Norbert Dikkeboom last year. He accused Engel of inciting violence, spreading medical misinformation, fraud, making statements with terrorist intent, and threats.
“After the declaration, there appeared to be sufficient reason for an exploratory investigation. The police will conduct this. The public prosecutor will then decide whether there is a provable criminal offense and whether to prosecute,” said an OM spokesperson in January.
Engel called the accusations a “smear campaign” and said he was innocent. “I try to keep the debate sharp but never cross the line. I’ve never threatened anyone.” Engel has also accused Dikkeboom of stalking.
Inciting people to commit a criminal offense or violent acts against public officials is illegal in the Netherlands, and punishable by up to five years in prison. Distribution of such messages, including in a speech, is punishable by a maximum of three years behind bars. In either case, the Dutch criminal code makes also allows courts to increase prison sentences by a third if the crime is considered a terrorist act.