The man who murdered flamboyant Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was freed on Friday after serving two-thirds of an 18-year sentence, the Dutch Ministry of Justice said.
Volkert van der Graaf, 44, was jailed for the 2002 shooting of the outspoken Fortuyn, an act that shattered the liberal Netherlands’ image of itself as a unified and secure society.
“I can confirm that Volkert van der Graaf has been freed on conditional release,” Dutch Ministry of Justice spokesman Jochgem van Opstal told reporters, declining to provide further details.
Van der Graaf, an animal rights activist, served just under 12 years in prison — years during which many of Fortuyn’s ideas, particularly his irreverence toward “multiculturalism” and his aversion to Muslim immigration, have become mainstream in the Netherlands.
Van der Graaf killed Fortuyn on May 6, 2002, days before national elections in which Fortuyn was set to win big on an anti-immigration platform that upended the then-progressive Dutch political landscape.
Fortuyn’s slaying shocked a nation that had not seen anything like it.
Voters flocked to the party of the martyred Fortuyn, but it lacked stability without its flamboyant leader, and the Netherlands entered a period of tumultuous politics that lasted a decade.
Still, his ideas were increasingly taken up by successor parties and by the mainstream right. Successive governments have passed laws making it more difficult to immigrate and easier to be deported; asylum seekers are confined and criminals with dual nationality are stripped of their Dutch passports.
Criminals normally receive conditional release after serving two-thirds of a sentence in the Netherlands, but Van der Graaf’s 18-year sentence was criticized as too light from the moment it was handed down.
How could a man commit the premeditated murder of a politician and walk away 12 years later?
Fortuyn supporters scheduled a protest against his release in Rotterdam, and some groups have vowed to track Van der Graaf down and kill him.
Van Opstal said Van der Graaf’s release has conditions attached, including wearing a tracking ankle band and not visiting areas related to his crime or Fortuyn’s family and political support.
There is no death penalty in the Netherlands.
In Van der Graaf’s case, judges had to choose between a maximum sentence of 20 years for an odd, but sane first-time offender — or life in prison without possibility of parole. They gave him 18 years.
Van der Graaf was a vegan with a girlfriend and infant daughter who had devoted his life to animal rights causes.
He said at trial he had seen Fortuyn as “a danger for society,” and compared his rise to that of Nazism in the 1930s.
In a letter leaked by a lawyer for the Fortuyn family, Van der Graaf in jail wrote to his girlfriend: “If I ever give a statement to judges or the media, then of course it doesn’t necessarily have to be the truth. For the outside world the truth isn’t important, it only needs to be functional.”
A small part of Fortuyn’s platform was to ditch a proposed ban on mink breeding.
Van der Graaf said at his trial and later appeal he was not yet sure whether what he did was wrong.
However, he confessed, took responsibility for his actions, offered apologies to Fortuyn’s family and promised he would never do anything like it again.
“The public prosecutors’ office has said there is no reason to think he will be a repeat offender,” Van Opstal said.
Since 2002, Fortuyn-inspired governments have introduced dozens of anti-immigration and tougher criminal laws, including making it possible for judges to grant sentences of up to 30 years, or more for terrorist acts. Average sentence lengths have increased, and life sentences have become far more common.
In an interview with national broadcaster NOS on Friday, Pim Fortuyn’s brother Marten urged supporters not to “try to play judge themselves.”
He said that if he were Van der Graaf, “I’d make sure that I went far away and could not be recognized.”
“Fortunately, Volkert van der Graaf still has a life sentence: He’ll always have to be looking over his shoulder,” he said.
Additional reporting by AFP
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