Belgium’s state secretary for asylum and migration is facing criticism after sharing a satirical GIF in which he is seen arresting an undocumented migrant.
A video shows the official, Theo Francken, with his face digitally edited over that of a police officer’s while being lowered from a helicopter and placing a suction cup on the head of a black man. The man is arrested and lifted into the sky. The clip is followed by the tag line: “Tolerance Zero.”
RTBF, the public broadcasting radio station in Belgium, reported that Francken posted it on Facebook with the comment: “Look what I found, zero tolerance, it’s amusing.”
The post has been deleted from Francken’s Facebook page, but at the time of publishing, the minister had it favorited in his liked tweets.
In a statement Thursday to CNN, Francken said he didn’t intend to hurt anyone by sharing the clip and didn’t understand the reaction. “I do not want to be drawn into the excitement of the day,” he said, explaining why he later removed the post.
The creator of the GIF told CNN he was surprised to see it used politically. “The original message has taken (on) a whole new meaning,” Roberto Salvador said.
He explained the GIF was inspired after reading an article in Le Vif magazine about Francken’s “excessive” use of force while detaining undocumented African immigrants in Brussels’ working-class neighborhood of Molenbeek.
“The media quickly talked about ‘racist video,’ but it is purely contextual,” he said.
Several lawmakers publicly criticized Francken for the post.
Lawmaker Ahmed Laaouej of the Belgian Socialist Party told CNN that racism is a problem in his country. “In Belgium, the trivialization of racism at the highest levels of the state has become a reality,” he said. “It is a wound that will be difficult to heal.”
Laaouej also posted on Twitter to express his anger: “You think this is funny? You make us vomit, Mr Francken.”
Catherine Fonck of the Humanist Democratic Centre party called Francken’s behavior unacceptable. “It is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to guarantee impeccable behavior of the members of his government,” Fonck told CNN. “It really is not funny at all despite what the minister said.”