Covid skeptic Willem Engel released from jail; Can return to social media
The coronavirus skeptic who was arrested again over the weekend was released from custody on Tuesday. Willem Engel, the leader of activist group Viruswaarheid, will still have to appear in court in two separate cases, the most recent of which involving accusations of sedition stemming from statements he published on Facebook.
The 45-year-old Rotterdammer is suspected of having posted "incendiary coronavirus-related messages" on social media during the period of June 2020 through December 2021. "These messages have led to other people committing criminal offenses or being incited to do so," the Public Prosecution Service (OM) previously said. He was arrested in that case last month, and spent two weeks in pre-trial detention. He was released from custody on several conditions, including that he refrain from making any statements on any social platform or channel, according to the court filing from that hearing.
On Friday, he appeared in a video published by the YouTube channel Café Weltschmerz, which featured a conversation with Engel and his legal representative, Jeroen Pols. In the video, Engel spoke about his arrest and the ongoing criminal cases against him. He was taken back into custody while driving to a coronavirus protest in Nijmegen on accusations that he violated the terms of his release.
A courtroom on Tuesday ruled that Engel may await his trial in freedom. The court said the social media ban, which was suggested by Engel himself, was too broad. The court also said that it “is of the opinion that this restricts the suspect's freedom too much.”
The OM launched its investigation into Engel’s comments on Facebook during the coronavirus pandemic after 23,000 people said they want to press charges against Engel, a push driven by a campaign by activist Norbert Dikkeboom. Dikkeboom accused Engel of inciting violence, spreading medical misinformation, fraud, making statements with terrorist intent, and threats. The next hearing date has not been set in the case.
Separately, Engel has to appear in court on June 13 for ignoring a police order on October 10, 2020, during a demonstration in The Hague. He is also accused of incitement in that case because he said during a video shown live on Facebook that people should detain police officers using a citizen's arrest procedure.