Dutch MPs to debate ending law against insulting king

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Dutch MPs will this week debate the touchy subject of scrapping royal defamation laws, but the issue has exposed rifts within the fragile ruling coalition, news reports say.

The Netherlands remains one of the few countries that still maintains "lese majeste" laws, dating back to 1830, making it a criminal offence to insult Dutch King Willem-Alexander.

Parliament's lower house will on Thursday, February 8, discuss a bill proposed by the progressive D66 party, which would drop clauses against defaming the king contained within wider laws on crimes against the royalty.

"This change will see the scrapping of clauses in regards to insulting the king, his wife and his possible successor," D66 parliamentarian Kees Verhoeven said in the proposed bill.

First deemed a crime in 1830 and taken up in the Dutch statute books in 1886, in modern times the law "implied restricting freedom of speech," Verhoeven said in the draft bill, penned in early 2016.

"Since 1830, 185 years have gone by. That's a good reason to update changes to the legislation," he said.

The law is seldom invoked, however, and carries a maximum of 5 years in jail or a penalty of almost 20,000 euros ($24,500).

Last used in July 2016, a man was jailed for 30 days for insulting Willem-Alexander on Facebook, calling him a "murderer, thief and rapist".

Verhoeven pointed out that changing the law would not mean defaming the king would go unpunished: royals should be able – as any citizen – to simply lay a complaint, making any special laws unnecessary.

But the suggestion is causing a rift between D66 – known for its progressive views on euthanasia and abortion – and the two conservative Christian parties, which together with Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal VVD form the current ruling coalition, Dutch news reports said.

The Christian Union (CU) party vehemently opposes scrapping the law and Christian Democratic Appeal MP Chris van Dam said he was "completely against it".

"This is about our king, who cannot defend himself in a public debate," Van Dam told popular daily tabloid De Telegraaf over the weekend.

Even Rutte's VVD, which initially supported D66, seems to have second thoughts, De Telegraaf said.

"You can hardly expect the king to cycle to the nearest police station to make a complaint," VVD MP Sven Koopmans told the paper. – Rappler.com