BRUSSELS (AP) — A court in Belgium sentenced prominent far-right activist Dries Van Langenhove to a year in prison on Tuesday for running an organization that a judge said spread “racist, hateful, Nazi and negationist speech,” in a major ruling on how the nation deals with extremism.

Five members of the extremist group that Van Langenhove led received suspended sentences, including two who work for the far-right Flemish Interest party, which is slated to make big gains in June elections.

Tom Van Grieken, the leader of the Flemish Interest party, said the ruling was proof that “Belgian justice is rotten to the core” and called the proceedings “a political trial from day one.”

They were accused of using a chat group to exchange racist, antisemitic and other extremist comments. Van Langenhove, a former Belgian parliamentarian, also had some of his civil rights suspended for a decade, making him ineligible for office.

Investigative journalists from the VRT public broadcaster were at the heart of the case as their 2018 documentary on Van Langenhove’s Shield and Friends group highlighted its public and private militaristic and extremist activities.

“The defendant raved about Nazi ideology, which has caused and continues to cause untold suffering to countless people. The file showed that he wants to undermine democratic society and replace it with a social model of white supremacy,” said Judge Jan Van den Berghe.

The chats on the Shield and Friends site included the most macabre jokes and memes on anything from famine in Africa to Holocaust concentration camps.

Van Langenhove, 30, said he did not commit any crimes.

“A years-long investigation, on which the Justice Department wasted millions of euros of taxpayers’ money, shows that the … activists cannot be charged with anything other than some memes. Humor. Memes that I didn’t even post myself,” he said in a reaction.

Some of the parties in the case lodged complaints following the VRT documentary.

“The ridiculing of gas chambers, of incinerators, that was so over the top for me that I spontaneously lodged a complaint,” said Henri Heimans, a former magistrate whose parents survived the Nazi death camps. “Then, of course, I unwittingly ended up in a procedural battle that lasted for years.”

Van Langenhove was not at the court in Ghent, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Brussels, but his lawyer said he would appeal the ruling, which automatically suspends his imprisonment. He was also fined 16,000 euros ($17,470).

Right-wing extremism, racism and antisemitism has been on the rise through much of Europe, and far-right political parties have made big inroads in many European Union nations over the past few years. They’re set to be a key issue at the June 6-9 EU elections.

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