A Dutch court has brought to a close one of the most disturbing episodes of the pandemic by imposing jail terms on three men who targeted the government’s chief coronavirus expert, claiming he was a paedophile and a satanist and forcing him into 24-hour police protection.
The three targeted Prof Jaap van Dissel (65), a virologist and chairman of the national outbreak management team, over a prolonged period, and also made threats against prime minister Mark Rutte and others, including a general practitioner and a scientist.
The court saw video evidence at an earlier hearing of Prof Van Dissel cycling along the street and being followed by a car from which one of the defendants, Wouter R (54), shouted that he was “a paedophile and a child murderer”.
In another video, also circulated on social media, Wouter R and a second jailed defendant, Joost K (44), revealed Prof Van Dissel’s home address and urged followers to visit and “give him stones for his birthday”.
The court heard that Joost K grew up in Bodegraven, about 30km from Amsterdam, where he circulated rumours about a paedophile group who abused and killed children in satanic rituals during the 1980s.
His fiction was taken up by other conspiracy theorists, who laid flowers on the graves of children buried in a local graveyard — until the authorities used emergency powers to ban them and took court action in which they were ordered to pay €215,000 in damages and the cost of security.
At the height of the pandemic, the group — which called online for the execution of members of “the satanic-paedo-elite” — spread the rumour that Prof Van Dissel was the leader of the satanists. In a fraught environment heightened by anti-curfew rioting, he was then given 24-hour police protection.
During a separate court hearing, in a series of victim statements presented by a colleague, Prof Van Dissel said his life had been “completely turned upside-down”.
The Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences presented Prof Van Dissel with its medal of honour last year for his role in the advancement of science, specifically as chief government adviser during the pandemic.
Wouter R and Joost K were given 14 and 18 months in jail respectively, partially suspended. Hans M (57) got three months, which he had already served pre-trial, plus 100 hours’ community service. A fourth suspect, Micha Kat, arrested in Northern Ireland last year, is fighting extradition.