Wilders tweets judges as he boycotts hate-speech trial
Dutch far-right leader faces up to two years in jail if convicted of incitement to hatred
Dutch far-right Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders: the case against him arises from comments he made about Moroccans during a rally in 2014. Photograph: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty
Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders, whose trial for incitement to hatred against Moroccans began in his absence on Monday, sent judges an unrepentant message via Twitter as the case got under way, claiming 43 per cent of Dutch citizens want fewer Moroccans in their country.
The case against Mr Wilders arises from comments he made at a rally before the European elections in 2014. He asked the crowd if they wanted to see more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands, and when they began to chant “fewer, fewer”, he replied: “We’ll have to organise that.”
More than 6,400 complaints were lodged with police when the comments were broadcast on television, and the Freedom Party leader now faces a possible two years in jail for his remarks.
As the case opened, however, his Twitter feed showed there had been no change of heart.
“The Netherlands has a huge problem with Moroccans”, he tweeted as the judges hearing the case took their seats in the maximum security courtroom near Schiphol airport.
“To be silent about it is cowardly. 43% of Dutch want fewer Moroccans. No verdict will change that.”
Mr Wilders (53) announced on Friday he would boycott the trial – due to last three weeks – describing it as “a political process” addressing issues best dealt with in parliament. And despite some scepticism, as the proceedings began, the dock remained empty.
Setting the sometimes tetchy mood, prosecutor Sabrina van der Kallen observed: “We would have appreciated if we had heard about his absence from the defence and not the media. He [Mr Wilders] was present during the pre-trial hearings, but now that it’s for real, he sneaks out the back door.”
The panel of three judges watched video footage of the speech and presented a list of questions they said they would like to have put to Mr Wilders about his comments, including, “What did you intend to achieve?”
Presiding judge Kendrik Steenhuis said he would particularly like to have asked whether his comments reflected Mr Wilders’s own opinions or those of his party, because that could be legally significant.
“He claims that his comments relate to crime rates and criminal Moroccans, but even so he doesn’t retract his broader statements about all Moroccans. Would he like to have used other words?”
Judge Steenhuis said he had no doubt that Mr Wilders was following live coverage of the trial, and suggested he might reply to the judges – via Twitter.