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Is threatening politicians a danger to democracy?

After the episode of TV programme 'Collegetour' featuring Dutch Minister of Finance Sigrid Kaag, more attention is (rightly) being paid to threats made to politicians. Jeroen ten Voorde, Professor of Criminal Law and Criminology, answered pressing questions about this topic on Dutch news programme 'EenVandaag'.

During the Collegetour episode, Minister Kaag denounced the way right-wing politician Geert Wilders lashed out at other politicians, including herself. He had called Kaag a witch. In doing so, Kaag believes he is contributing to the toxic political environment.

Among other questions, EenVandaag asked Ten Voorde whether threats are sometimes a reaction to the mutual provocation of politicians. ‘Partly it is indeed a tit-for-tat response, but that's no reason for people to start making threats. That's simply not okay, period. Yes, there's freedom of speech: you can oppose certain views, express something in a sharp way, and it's okay if you, as a result, shock or hurt people. But if you give people the impression you're going to put your words into deeds, you need to realise you’re no longer making a contribution to the discussion.’

Do such threats pose a danger to democracy? ‘A couple of threats won’t immediately undermine democracy’, explains Ten Voorde. ‘The moment politicians change their behaviour, that they let threats guide their vote for, let’s say, a bill, that’s when democracy no longer works the way you would like it to.’

Ten Voorde also shed light on the punishability of such threats and whether people can walk away scot-free. You can read his answer and more (in Dutch) on EenVandaag.

Photograph: Michael Matlon via www.unsplash.com. 

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