Geert Wilders will not attend trial for inciting hatred at 2014 rally

Dutch politician unrepentant over remarks about Moroccans living in the Netherlands

Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders says he will refuse to attend his trial on charges of inciting racial hatred, calling the hearing “a travesty”.  Photograph: Evert-Jan Daniels/AFP/Getty Images

Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders says he will refuse to attend his trial on charges of inciting racial hatred, calling the hearing “a travesty”. Photograph: Evert-Jan Daniels/AFP/Getty Images

 

With an eye perhaps to the Dutch general election in March, the country’s leading right-wing politician, Geert Wilders, has decided not to attend his high-profile trial for inciting hatred and discrimination against Moroccans, which starts in Amsterdam on Monday.

Mr Wilders is not legally obliged to be present in the high-security courtroom at Schiphol to hear the case against him, which arises from comments at a rally in the lead-up to the European elections in 2014 – comments that demonstrably damaged his results in both the local and Euro campaigns.

When Mr Wilders asked supporters at the rally whether they wanted to see more or fewer Moroccans living in the Netherlands, they began a chant of “fewer, fewer” – to which Mr Wilders infamously replied, “Well, we’ll have to organise that …”

Police received thousands of complaints, and when officers interviewed him under caution about possible discrimination charges, he refused to retract his comments, maintaining they were part of his “fight against the Islamisation of the Netherlands” and saying he would not be “silenced”.

Lost ground

However, in local elections immediately afterwards in March 2014, instead of gaining seats Mr Wilders’ Freedom Party lost ground in both the council seats it contested. At the same time, two MPs – the party’s leader in the European Parliament, and nine councillors – all resigned in protest. The Freedom Party also fared badly in the Euro elections that May, suffering a 20 per cent drop in its vote, a result put down to a combination of the “Moroccan comments” and the unacceptable “whiff of anti-Semitism” seen as hanging over his alliance with France’s National Front.

So the Moroccan comments were generally regarded in the Netherlands – including by many within his own party – as a serious and uncharacteristic misstep in public, which his refusal to attend the court hearings next week indicates he may be unwilling to risk repeating.

Publicly, Mr Wilders – who was acquitted in 2011 of inciting hatred against Muslims – says he won’t be attending the court because he regards his trial as “a political process” and prefers to carry on the debate in a more appropriate place: parliament.

However, there is still no sign of contrition: “The Netherlands has an enormous Moroccan problem. If talking about it is an offence, then the Netherlands is no longer a free country but a dictatorship.”

Mr Wilders’ lawyer, Geert-Jan Knoops, submitted a motion earlier this month to have the trial stopped because, he contended, it amounted to no more than “a political assessment of Mr Wilders and the PVV [Freedom Party]”. However, judges rejected the motion, acknowledging that while there were “political aspects” to the case, the court had the right to decide “where the boundaries of free speech and political campaigning lie”.

The trial, which Mr Wilders describes as “a travesty”, begins on Monday and is due to last three weeks until November 25th. He faces a maximum fine of €7,400 and could be jailed for a year if found guilty.