AMSTERDAM (AP) — The animal rights activist whose 2002 assassination of a populist anti-immigration politician plunged the Netherlands into turbulence is eligible for early parole and should be reintegrated into society, a criminal justice agency ruled Wednesday.
An official immediately announced the Justice Department might not enforce the agency's ruling. Volkert van der Graaf was sentenced to 18 years for shooting Pim Fortuyn dead in what was arguably the first assassination in the country since 1672. As his potential release date approaches, the department has resisted letting him out of prison early, saying it could cause civil unrest and that it may be impossible to keep him safe from vigilantes.
The killing of Fortuyn, a professor and author whose party skyrocketed to popularity on an anti-immigration platform deeply shocked the Dutch. It ushered in a period of unstable governments as Fortuyn's former supporters swung support to a variety of would-be successors, and a groundswell of sentiment against Muslim immigrants intensified.
At the time of his conviction, 20 years was the harshest practical sentence for a criminal who was not ruled criminally insane. In line with public sentiment, sentencing possibilities have increased and life sentences are now more common.
Under Dutch rules, prisoners are generally granted parole after serving two-thirds of their sentences. The Council for the Admission of Criminal Justice ruled that Van der Graaf's rights had priority "over societal unrest and the risks that allowing furloughs may bring."
Deputy Justice Minister Fred Teeven said that he might ignore the ruling.
"I have to consider it again and go look at the immediate circumstances," he said.
Fortuyn's brother Marten said in a statement on behalf of the family that "we presume Teeven will keep his word and see whether any provisional release can be prevented."
Geert Wilders, the politician who eventually won over the bulk of Fortuyn's former supporters — and who currently tops national popularity polls, well ahead of Prime Minister Mark Rutte — said that the criminal justice organization is "out of touch with reality."
"The interest of the Netherlands is that (Van der Graaf) remain behind bars as long as possible," he said.
At trial, Van der Graaf claimed he saw Fortuyn as a threat to the vulnerable, and compared Fortuyn's rise in popularity to the rise of Hitler. Closely questioned by judges, Van der Graaf said he wasn't sure whether what he did was wrong, but he said he would never do it again.
Van der Graaf was married and had a young daughter at the time of Fortuyn's killing.