Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders' hate speech trial opens

4th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders, set to become a shadow partner of the next Dutch government, defended the right to free speech Monday as he went on trial for inciting hatred against Muslims.

"I am on trial, but on trial with me is the freedom of expression of many Dutch citizens," the controversial politician with his signature shock of dyed-blonde hair told the Amsterdam district court.

He risks up to a year in jail or a 7,600-euro fine for calling Islam "fascist" and likening the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf.

Wilders, 47, is charged with five counts of giving religious offence to Muslims and inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims and people of non-Western immigrant origin, particularly Moroccans, in comments made between October 2006 and March 2008 in Dutch newspapers and on Internet forums.

Among the exhibits is Wilders' 17-minute film, "Fitna", alleged to depict Islam as a force bent on destroying the West and whose screening in the Netherlands in 2008 prompted protests in much of the Muslim world.

He told the court that apart from his opening statement he would rely on his right to remain silent and would not answer any questions.

"I have said everything I wanted to say and will not take back a single word," the politician said, adding he was being persecuted for "stating my opinion in the context of public debate".

"I can assure you, I will continue proclaiming it".

Wilders' lawyer Bram Moszkowicz later claimed that presiding judge Jan Moors reacted to his client's vow of silence in a way that betrayed partiality, and asked for the bench to be recused.

A separate panel of judges will sit at noon (1000 GMT) to decide how to proceed.

The proceedings, attended by a dozen of Wilders' Party for Freedom's 24 MPs in the public gallery, was broadcast live on public television.

Outside the court building, a small group of protesters gathered with a large placard blaming Wilders for "division and polarisation", as a strong contingent of police, some in riot gear, kept watch.

"The different colours of our society is what makes us rich, but that is being threatened by Mr Wilders," Mustafa Ayranci, one of the group's organisers and head of the Turkish labour association, told AFP.

The target of death threats, Wilders has 24-hour state-sponsored protection while pursuing his mission to "stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands".

He campaigns for a stop to Muslim immigration, banning the construction of new mosques, and a tax on headscarves.

Wilders was temporarily banned from Britain last year on race hate grounds.

In Berlin on Saturday, more than 100 people demonstrated against his presence to give a speech at the invitation of a right-wing German politician.

In June 2008, the Dutch prosecution service dismissed dozens of complaints against Wilders from around the country, citing his right to freedom of speech.

But appeals judges ordered in January 2009 that he stand trial as his utterances amounted to "sowing hatred" and exceeded the boundaries of political debate.

Judgment is expected on November 4.

Under a coalition deal being finalised, Wilders' PVV will provide a minority cabinet of the Christian Democrats and liberals with the majority they need to pass decisions through parliament in return for a voice in policy formation.

© 2010 AFP

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