Thursday

23rd Jan 2020

European Parliament lifts immunity of far-right MEP

The European Parliament on Tuesday (18 November) lifted the immunity of Belgian far-right MEP Frank Vanhecke, who is facing racism charges in Belgium.

MEPs voted by 564 for and 61 against to lift his immunity, while 42 abstained.

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The Belgian deputy of the Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang is accused of publishing and editing a political pamphlet in 2005 which wrongly accused "foreigners" of desecrating cemeteries.

The text also said: "a culture which has no respect for the dead or for the symbols of a different faith is a delinquent culture," according to French news agency AFP.

It later transpired that four local Flemish young people were guilty of the crimes the "foreigners" had been accused of in Saint-Nicolas, a town in Flanders, Belgium's Dutch-speaking northern region.

MEPs dispose of an immunity which prevents them from being "wanted, detained or sued because of opinions or votes emitted by them in the exercise of their functions."

They rarely lift the privilege over political statements, but in this case decided Mr Vahnecke's parliamentary cover did not extend to his editorial activities and obligations.

For his part, the Belgian MEP said he was the victim of a "political lynching," arguing that he had made sure the article in question was corrected, the Associated Press reports.

The party to which Mr Vanhecke belongs is a successor of another formation that was dismantled after it was found guilty of racism in 2004. Vlams Belang also backs independence for Flanders.

The European Parliament move comes ahead of the June 2009 European elections, where far right parties are expected to score gains across Europe due to the financial crisis and recession.

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