Conspiracy theorist claims bias and demands judges' removal in sedition case
Conspiracy theorist Willem Engel, who is on trial for sedition, has filed a formal challenge against the Rotterdam court a week before the court was set to deliver a verdict in his criminal case. He said on Monday that he has no confidence in the judges, and he no longer considers them to be independent and impartial.
On November 21, the Public Prosecution Service demanded 180 hours of community service and a three-month suspended prison sentence against the leader of Viruswaarheid. The protest group's name translates to Virus Truth, and has since been disbanded. The court planned to issue its ruling on January 16, but that schedule could be difficult to maintain now that the validity of the court has been challenged.
Known in Dutch as "wraking," the challenge is a request to replace the judges in a particular case. Three different judges from the same district court are then brought together to consider the challenge before the case is allowed to proceed. By Monday afternoon, it still was not clear when the this session could take place.
The court had to consider several new requests from Engel on Monday on the fourth day of the hearing, which he said was becoming increasingly politicized. "The evidence of political interference is piling up," said Engel. He also claimed that documents are missing from his criminal file and that the Public Prosecution Service has manipulated evidence by, for example, omitting punctuation marks from his relevant social media messages for which he was criminally charged. Engel also asked the court to call Justice Minister Dilan Yeşilgöz as a witness, as well as Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV).
The court decided it would respond to his new requests when it announces its verdict on January 16, which was reason for Engel to challenge the court's impartiality. "Everything indicates that you want to pass judgment on the 16th," according to Engel. He has already attacked the court before. "I get the impression that you support the regime," Engel told the court. "You are politically directly opposed to Viruswaarheid."
The OM is prosecuting the 45-year-old Rotterdammer for a series of coronavirus-related messages on social media. For example, for the tweet in which he called on people to photograph employees of mobile vaccination buses. He also distributed Twitter messages calling on people to show up at the Malieveld in The Hague to demonstrate against the coronavirus measures, despite the fact that the demonstrations were prohibited.
He also called on his followers to call a nursing home in Goirle that was closed to visitors due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Reporting by ANP