Dutch police arrest man for threatening doctor promoting vaccinations

Tweeting by medic about importance of vaccines is what led to ‘price put on his head’

Clashes erupt between police officers and antivaxxers affiliated to far-right parties, near Museumplein, in Amsterdam, earlier this month. Photograph: Pierre Crom/Getty Images

Dutch police have arrested a 21-year-old man on suspicion of offering €1,000 online to “finish off” a young doctor who co-founded a nationwide project giving coronavirus jabs without appointment to prevent unused vaccines being thrown away.

The association of general practitioners in the Netherlands described the threat against Dr Bernard Leenstra as "horrible" and unacceptable" – but said it was symptomatic of an increase in aggression against GPs and their staff since the pandemic began.

In fact, a spokesperson said, it was significantly worse than the intimidation or stones-through-windows type of vandalism typically experienced by family doctors. “What’s happened to Bernard Leenstra shouldn’t even be called aggression – this is pure threat.”

Dr Leenstra (30), a doctor who switched from surgery to train as a GP, co-founded the online platform prullenbakvaccin.nl, which brings together community doctors, leftover vaccine and patients who want to be jabbed.

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Wastage

He tweets regularly about how vaccines work, the importance of being vaccinated against coronavirus, and of keeping wastage of vaccine to a minimum.

That social media profile is what led to him having “a price put on his head” – which he said is how he felt when he saw his personal details online along with the words: “I offer €1,000 to finish off doctor Bernard.”

On Wednesday, police confirmed that they had arrested a 21-year-old man in the municipality of Hoeksche Ward, south of Rotterdam, for online incitement and threats.

It’s understood their investigation started at the end of last year and has involved complex digital analysis of online posts.

‘Relieved’

In a message on Twitter, Dr Leenstra thanked the police on behalf of himself and his family, saying he was “relieved” they had taken action.

“It may be that people are angry or don’t realise the consequences of what they write,” he said later. “But it only needs one person to take a contract for the murder of a GP seriously. I also knew my mother and my girlfriend had seen this threat – and that really gets to you.”

He said he knew of a GP practice in Leiden that had been set alight by a Molotov cocktail through the window and had had shots fired at its front door.

“People who believe that vaccines are poison and who are furious about coronavirus policy are a very small group. It seems if you believe this you also feel justified in doing all the unacceptable things we’ve seen over the past two years.”

Last week, the country's new foreign minister, Sigrid Kaag, was confronted by a man, known from antivaccine protests, waving a burning torch and livestreaming her as she opened her front door. Leading antivaxxer Willem Engel was banned from Twitter for 12 hours for posting her address.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court