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Friday 29 August 2014

Dutch politician's killer freed

Published 02/05/2014 | 16:52

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Pim Fortuyn was assassinated by an animal rights activist in 2002 (AP)

The animal rights activist who assassinated controversial Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn has been freed after serving just under 12 years in prison.

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Volkert van der Graaf killed Mr Fortuyn on May 6, 2002, days before national elections in which the politician was set to win big on an anti-immigration platform that upended the then-progressive Dutch political landscape.

Since then years many of Mr Fortuyn's ideas, particularly his disdain of "multiculturalism" and his dislike of Muslim immigration, have become mainstream in the Netherlands.

The killing shocked a nation that had not seen anything like it. Voters flocked to the party of the martyred politician, but it lacked stability without its flamboyant leader, and the Netherlands entered a period of tumultuous politics that lasted a decade.

Still, his ideas were increasingly taken up by successor parties and by the mainstream right. Successive governments have passed laws ordering citizenship classes for immigrants and making it more difficult to immigrate but easier to be deported.

Criminals normally receive conditional release after serving two-thirds of a sentence in the Netherlands, but van der Graaf's 18-year sentence was criticised as too light from the moment it was handed down.

But "judges determined the punishment", he said. There is no death penalty in the Netherlands.

Fortuyn supporters have scheduled a protest against his release in Rotterdam tonight, and right-wing groups have vowed to track van der Graaf down and kill him.

Justice Ministry spokesman Jochgem van Opstal said van der Graaf's release has conditions attached, including wearing a ankle tag and not visiting areas related to his crime or Mr Fortuyn's family and political support.

In van der Graaf's case, judges had to choose between a maximum sentence of 20 years for an odd but sane first-time offender - or life in prison without possibility of parole. They gave him 18 years.

Van der Graaf was a vegan with a girlfriend and young daughter who had devoted his life to animal rights causes. He claimed at trial he had seen Mr Fortuyn as "a danger for society" and compared his rise to that of Nazism in the 1930s.

But in a letter leaked by a lawyer for the Fortuyn family, van der Graaf in jail wrote to his girlfriend "if I ever give a statement to judges or the media, then of course it doesn't necessarily have to be the truth. For the outside world the truth isn't important, it only needs to be functional".

A small part of Mr Fortuyn's platform was to ditch a proposed ban on mink breeding.

Van der Graaf said at his trial and later appeal he was not yet sure whether what he did was wrong. But he confessed, took responsibility for his actions, offered apologies to Mr Fortuyn's family and promised he would never do anything like it again.

Since 2002, Fortuyn-inspired governments have also introduced tougher criminal laws, including making it possible for judges to grant sentences of up to 30 years or more for terrorist acts. Average sentence lengths have increased and life sentences have become far more common.

It is not known where van der Graaf will live, whether he will have police protection, or whether he will be able to have any relationship with his girlfriend and their daughter, now a teenager.

In an interview with national broadcaster NOS Friday, Mr Fortuyn's brother urged supporters not to "try to play judge themselves".

But he said that if he were van der Graaf, "I'd make sure that I went far away and could not be recognised".

"Fortunately, Volkert van der Graaf still has a life sentence: he'll always have to be looking over his shoulder," he said.

Press Association

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