13 January 2005
BRUSSELS – The Belgian king has voiced his support for a Flemish businessman who is receiving death threats for letting one of his employees wear a Muslim headscarf.
King Albert II invited Rik Remmery and his Muslim employee Naima Amzil to his palace on Wednesday to discuss the racist harassment they have been receiving since November.
A group calling itself ‘Nieuw Vrij Vlaanderen’ has sent five letters to Remmery, who runs the company Remmery in Ledegem in Flanders.
They demand he sacks Amzil, who wears a headscarf because of her religion, and say his life will be in danger if he does not.
To try to calm the situation, Amzil has stopped wearing her veil to work, but the threats have continued and a bullet was enclosed in the last letter.
Remmery has refused to give in to the extremists and has been placed under police protection.
On Wednesday, the king praised him and Amzil for their courage.
“He told us we had made the right decision not to respond to the demands of the threatening letters,” Remmery told the press afterwards. “The king appreciates this resistance.”
Both Remmery and Amzil said the king had made them feel better about the situation. “We are now definitely not going to change our strategy,” said Remmery.
“If we receive more threats, we will take the same decision.”
Amzil added: “I receive a lot of support from my colleagues and that helps.”
Eliane Deproost, deputy manager of the Centre for Freedom of Opportunity and the Fight Against Racism, said the king’s gesture was important given the seriousness of the situation. She said there was a risk cases like this could escalate to the point of terrorism.
“One thing which is worrying is that the threats are continuing even though the young woman has decided to no longer wear the veil in her workplace,” said Deproost.
Remmery has also received support for his stance from the Flemish Union of Medium-Sized Businesses (UNIZO) which launched a petition of solidarity.
In two weeks, 25,000 signatures were collected – an encouraging sign in a region where the extreme right-wing party Vlaams Belang (previously the Vlaams Blok) polls nearly a quarter of the vote.
[Copyright Expatica 2005]
Subject: Belgian news