Judges in Geert Wilders discrimination appeal removed for bias

Far-right leader hails retrial decision after ‘selective prosecution’ claim

Geert Wilders: the Dutch politician argued that appeal judges had failed to behave impartially. Photograph: François Walschaerts/Reuters

Geert Wilders: the Dutch politician argued that appeal judges had failed to behave impartially. Photograph: François Walschaerts/Reuters

 

The Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders has described as tremendous a decision to remove the judges in his appeal against a conviction for inciting discrimination against Moroccans, after his lawyers successfully argued that they had failed to behave impartially towards him.

The appeal began last Thursday but quickly hit the buffers when Mr Wilders’s lawyers asked for an adjournment to give them time to consider controversial comments about Russians by Alexander Pechtold, leader of the liberal D66 party, in February, for which Mr Pechtold had, by contrast, not been prosecuted.

The Wilders team claimed parallels between Mr Pechtold’s observation that he “had yet to meet a Russian who corrects his mistakes himself” and the Freedom Party leader’s admission that he wanted “fewer Moroccans” in the Netherlands.

Mr Wilders’s lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops said he wanted to use the Pechtold case to show that definitions of discrimination were “hazy” and “selectively applied” and that the public prosecution service was biased about who was prosecuted and who was not.

“More or fewer Moroccans?”

The Wilders incident happened during a rally in 2014, during which the anti-Islam campaigner asked supporters if they wanted “more or fewer Moroccans” in the country. When they began to chant “Fewer, fewer”, Wilders responded, “Fewer, fewer . . . Well, we’ll take care of that.”

When, in December 2016, Mr Wilders was convicted of inciting discrimination the panel of three judges said his comments had been “demeaning and insulting to the Moroccan population”.

That was the conviction against which Mr Wilders began his appeal on Thursday. When his lawyers asked for time to develop the Pechtold comparison, the appeal-court judges unanimously refused, prompting Mr Knoops to object and demand a review of the decision.

That review, by a special panel of judges, took place on Friday and found in Mr Wilders’s favour, saying his contention that the appeal judges were biased “can be objectively justified” and ordering the judges to be removed from the case.

The appeal had been expected to last about 11 days but could now take far longer. A new panel of judges must be selected and brought up to speed, after which, it seems inevitable, they will have to decide whether to grant an immediate adjournment to allow the Wilders side to consider the Pechtold case.

Before the appeal began, in a high-security courtroom near Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, Mr Wilders declared, “What the Islamists haven’t been able to do to me, the prosecutors are trying to achieve now: to silence me and destroy freedom of expression.”

On Monday, after hearing the decision to remove the appeal judges, he tweeted: “Tremendous!”