The Dutch politician and media personality Sylvana Simons answering questions during a book presentation in March. A court on Thursday convicted 20 people of directing sexist and racist speech toward Ms. Simons over the internet. (Mike Corder/Associated Press)

A Dutch court on Thursday convicted 20 people of sexist and racist online hate speech directed against a black politician and media personality, in a case that many here saw as an indictment of the ostensible culture of tolerance in the Netherlands.

Twenty-two people were charged with harassing the politician, Sylvana Simons, though she said in a complaint that she had received abusive comments from 40,000 internet users. One defendant, who received 80 hours of community service, the day’s harshest sentence, was accused of digitally adding Ms. Simons’s face to a video of Ku Klux Klan members lynching people.

Of the 22 defendants, one was acquitted on Thursday when the court ruled that he had not targeted Ms. Simons directly. Another case was dropped against a 15-year-old minor.

The court said it had focused on prosecuting those who had made the worst comments and whose identities could be ascertained.

“Freedom of opinion is great, especially if it fits into a social debate,” the court said in a statement. “But when this opinion is an insult, threat, riot or discrimination, there is a criminal offense.”

The court added that it hoped the sentences would have a “deterring effect.”

Ms. Simons, 46, was born in Suriname and raised in the Netherlands, where she gained prominence as a television and radio presenter. In testimony, she said she had become a target online after announcing her candidacy for the pro-immigrant party Denk. Ms. Simons later founded her own party, with which she unsuccessfully ran for Parliament in the March election.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Christopher F. Schuetze