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How Is Dutch King Like a Cop? Insulting Them Is to Be Treated Equally

April 10, 2018

“We have a very modern King, who binds the country, who is there when we grieve, and who is there when we celebrate, who stands above politics in our country,” said Chris van Dam, lawmaker from the Christian Democratic Appeal, a center right party, who fought hard to retain the current law.

“Everything that is valuable is also vulnerable, so we think that we must protect him,” said Mr. van Dam.

Mr. Verhoeven added his own amendments to make the bill more palatable. These included raising the proposed maximum penalty for insulting the king to four months from three, so that it would match the penalty for civil servants working in stressful situations, and making it clear that the monarch does not have to personally report violations.

The line of Orange-Nassau has ruled the Netherlands since 1815, when William I, the current king’s ancestor, declared the country a kingdom (the rulers previously held less ostentatious titles). The so-called lèse-majesté law currently on the books dates to that era, and took its current form in the 1880s.

According to public opinion polls, the royals enjoy tremendous approval. Part of their success is keeping a humble and people-friendly image, said Henk te Velde, a history professor at Leiden University, which is the king’s alma mater. Support for transforming the Netherlands into a republic is minimal.

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“The vast part of Dutch society might think that monarchy is not really modern,” Professor te Velde said. “But why should we get rid of it? It’s nice folklore.”

During the 1960s and 1970s, when Dutch society was rethinking the role of government, there was more criticism of the monarchy and the royalty. But even then the law about insulting the king was only rare applied.

However, it does periodically get used.

Abdulkasim Al-Jaberi, an activist, was charged under the law in 2015 after repeatedly yelling an obscene phrase during a demonstration in Amsterdam. He was initially ordered to pay a fine, but then was threatened with prison when he refused to pay. The prosecutor eventually dismissed the case, saying that he had yelled his comments in the context of a public debate.

From 2000 to 2012, the year before Queen Beatrix went into retirement, 16 people were prosecuted under the lèse-majesté law.

In March the European Court of Human Rights sided with two Spanish citizens who had burned a picture of the Spanish king and queen during a rally in 2007. The court, based in Strasbourg, France, found that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression, superseded Spanish laws protecting the royal family from insults.

The new Dutch law also limits the maximum prison sentence for insulting a foreign head of state to four months, down from two years.

In 2016, a German court was forced to decide whether a German comedian’s satirical poem mocking President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey was a criminal insult, after Mr. Erdogan pursued legal action.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was criticized for initially allowing the prosecution. She later said that her having called the poem “deliberately offensive” was a mistake, given the importance of free speech.

Mr. van Dam, the Dutch lawmaker who had fought against the bill approved on Tuesday, said he thought the measure was “more a statement than a practical thing — both the old law and the big change.”

Follow Christopher F. Schuetze on Twitter: @CFSchuetze.

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