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Should Acid pay ex-Reuzegommer’s parents 200,000 euros on Thursday?

On the last Wednesday of May last year, a few days after the controversial judgment in the Reuzegom hall, popular YouTuber Acid released his video ‘My top 5 Reuzegommers’ on the video platform. In the video he discussed the identity and environment of (eventually four) former members of the student club. Two of them were involved in the fatal baptism that claimed the life of Sanda Dia in 2018. The two others, young men nicknamed Elio and Uno, were not directly involved. At that time, Nathan Vandergunst had no fewer than 527,000 subscribers on YouTube under his pseudonym Acid. The video was viewed more than 25,000 times in one hour. That same afternoon, the platform removed the video from its website, “for violating YouTube’s policy on harassing and offensive content.”

1. Why did Acid have to go to trial?

The video had major consequences. Viewers flocked to the web page of Elio’s parents’ restaurant to leave negative reviews. Months later, the restaurant continues to receive bullying reservations, only to have no one show up.

According to the family’s lawyer, Wim De Colvenaer, Vandergunst is guilty of harassment, violation of privacy, electronic nuisance and slander. But the judiciary seemed to prefer to stay away from the case. The West Flemish public prosecutor’s office did not open an investigation into Vandergunst. That is why the family went to court themselves. With the help of a direct summons, they dragged Acid straight to the dock of the criminal court of Bruges.

2. Does he risk higher penalties than the Reuzegommers received?

Yes. The eighteen Reuzegommers were each sentenced to community service of between 200 and 300 hours and a fine of 400 euros. In addition, they had to contribute to compensation for Sanda Dia’s relatives. Respectively 15,000 euros, 8,000 euros, 6,000 euros and 4,000 euros. That is 1,833 euros per person.

The parents of the ex-Reuzegommer are asking for at least 200,000 euros in compensation for lost income. For defamation alone you can receive a fine of 208 to 8,000 euros and a prison sentence of eight to six months. But it could be even more. For harassment, prison sentences run up to two years. According to Acid’s lawyer, the fine could amount to 136,000 euros.

3. To assize or not?

Acid and his lawyer Walter Van Steenbrugge are resolutely in favor of the acquittal. But Van Steenbrugge pointedly noted during the oral arguments that this case should not even be handled by the criminal court of Bruges. According to him, his client must be judged by an assize, and therefore by a people’s jury.

Defamation, defamation, harassment, these are in principle press crimes. Those are the only crimes that can limit our freedom of expression. They are called “the punishable opinions”. With a few exceptions, these must always be assessed by assizes. But here too there is a potential hitch. Because to be considered a press offense, that punishable opinion must have been written down. The question remains whether a video with subtitles can be considered text.

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