The attack took place in Kelly’s bar near the railway station, when two brothers aged 19 and 28, Dimitri and Kevin D.N., attacked two gay men, aged 35 and 55, with fists and furniture. The local prosecutor in Dendermonde said the attack was clearly motivated by anti-gay sentiment, though no details were given. One of the men was injured but allowed to leave hospital after treatment. The other was briefly in a coma, but his condition the following day was no longer considered life-threatening.
According to the bar’s manager, the attack was unprovoked and particularly violent. Another gay man who was present was not attacked.
Gay rights organisation Cavaria said the attack was a “cowardly act of aggression”, and an illustration that homophobic violence could happen anywhere.
“It is unacceptable that in 2012 someone can be the victim of violence because of his nationality or sexual orientation,” said justice minister Annemie Turtelboom (pictured, with prime minister Elio Di Rupo), after the ministerial meeting.
“We want an open, free and tolerant society,” said Di Rupo, who is himself openly gay. “We are a society with broad freedoms, but we cannot permit someone’s physical integrity to be attacked. We need to show that this will not be tolerated.”
The new maximum sentences increase for manslaughter from 20 years to life, in cases where homophobic or racist motives are proven. For assault and battery, the current maximum of five years is increased to 30 years. The minimum sentences for such hate crimes were increased in 2007.
Di Rupo denied the government’s proposal was a knee-jerk reaction. In Liège earlier this year a gay man was beaten to death and the government has been considering its response since then, he said. The alleged attackers in Aalst, who were arrested shortly after the incident, will not be affected by the changes.