BRUSSELS (AFP) — A Belgian man will face a jury trial, accused of leaving hateful and misogynist comments on Facebook, a legal source told AFP on Friday.
The decision to refer the case to a jury was taken on Thursday by a court in the city of Liege.
A trial against the 33-year-old should be held in September, the legal source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The man is accused of using Facebook to criticize the choice of dress by female rape victims and declaring that he would assault women himself.
“His initial derogatory comments about women were answered with a stream of criticism and threats, and he then became more radical in his remarks,” the legal source explained.
Investigators found that the chatter resembled social media interactions before mass killings in Canada and the United States, the source said.
He is being prosecuted for something called “press offenses” as well as “threats” and “incitement to hatred.”
Turning to a jury strictly interprets the 1831 Belgium constitution that says “press offenses” — or accusations of published slander or using other defamatory language — must be decided by regular citizens and not by magistrates.
But exceptions now exist, including for cases involving racist content.
Jury trials in Belgium are mainly reserved for major crimes such as murder, assassination or rape, and it is extremely rare that it is used to set limits on free speech.
“There have been very few trials for press offences in our country, and to my knowledge never as a result of comments made on social media,” the defendant’s lawyer, Alexandre Wilmotte, told public radio RTBF.
© Agence France-Presse