Dutch man gets suspended term for insulting queen on Twitter


A 28-YEAR-OLD man has been given a six-month suspended sentence by a court in the Netherlands for threatening and insulting Queen Beatrix – on social networking service Twitter.

In a ruling that may have set a Dutch legal precedent, judges said tweets by the man, who has not been named, could be considered threatening, insulting and hurtful even if they had not actually been read by the person at whom they were aimed – in this case, the queen.

Although Queen Beatrix (74) is no stranger to social media and has her own Twitter address – @beatrixoranje, which follows @KHtweets, the Twitter address of the royal household – the court was given no indication as to whether she had seen the offending comments and, if so, how she had responded to them.

The detailed contents of the tweets were not revealed in open court, but the judges found them “offensive to her dignity” and said that whether Queen Beatrix herself had read them was “irrelevant” to their decision to convict.

In another unusual departure, the court in the southern town of Den Bosch told the man he faced the possibility of having his use of social media limited by his probation officers.

He was told that the probation service had the power to order him not to use the internet between the hours of midnight and 8am, and not to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook if it felt there was a danger that his tweets or posts could continue to be inappropriate.

The man has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism characterised by difficulties in social interaction. The judges said that while they had taken into account the man’s developmental disorder, they had also been influenced by the fact that he had previously sent questionable Twitter messages while on probation for other offences.

This is the second time in a fortnight that Dutch courts have highlighted the use of social media in high-profile offences that have come before them.

Last week, the Netherlands was shocked by a case in which a 14-year-old Chinese-Dutch teenager allegedly took €20 to act as “a hit man” and stab a 15-year-old schoolgirl to death in a row over offensive messages posted on Facebook.

While cases involving juveniles are usually held in private in the Netherlands, judges in the so-called “Facebook murder trial” decided to hear the evidence in public so that “society can know the facts” about the role played by social media in the tragedy.