Dutch anti-Islam MP's trial for hate crime starts today

 

THE TRIAL of Dutch right-wing anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders on hate crime charges begins today in Amsterdam in a landmark case testing the limits of free speech in the Netherlands.

The long-awaited legal case against the country’s most controversial politician has been extended to include inciting hatred against Moroccans and non-western immigrants based on his statement that “the borders will close that same day”, referring to his plans if he were to become prime minister.

He has also pledged to ban the Koran, which he likens to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, close borders to non-western immigrants and tax clothing commonly worn by Muslims such as headscarves because they “pollute” the landscape.

Mr Wilders already faces five counts of religious insult and anti-Muslim incitement. The charges stem from his 2008 short film, Fitna, which offended many Muslims by juxtaposing Koranic verses with images of terrorism by Islamic radicals.

The politician (45), who lives under permanent protection because of death threats, has urged an end to “the Islamic invasion” and famously declared that if the prophet Muhammad were alive today he should be “tarred and feathered” and deported as an extremist.

Despite a flood of protest from anti-racism campaigners who wanted Mr Wilders prosecuted for racial discrimination, Amsterdam’s public prosecutor’s office originally decided that his comments (made outside parliament and not privileged) should be seen as a contribution to the debate on Islam in Dutch society and no criminal offence had been committed.

But after Amsterdam’s appeals court ordered that Mr Wilders be put on trial, prosecutors opened a criminal investigation. The framework for the legal case will be set out in a crowded courtroom today. The defence will not be heard until March, it was reported.

Mr Wilder’s party rivals the country’s biggest party in popularity polls and is tipped to pick up even more seats as a result of the exposure from the case.

Mr Wilders has claimed: “Freedom of speech is being sacrificed on the altar of Islam, but I am ready to fight back with my head held high.”

His celebrity lawyer, Bram Moszkowicz, will cite a 2009 Dutch supreme court ruling that insulting a religion is not the same as insulting followers of that religion and is not punishable under hate speech laws.

If convicted, Mr Wilders faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison, though a fine of up to €18,500 is more likely. He could also theoretically keep his seat in parliament.