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 his trial for inciting hatred against Muslims made a halting start.

"I am on trial, but on trial with me is the freedom of expression of many Dutch citizens," Wilders, 47, told the Amsterdam district court before seeking his three judges' recusal for bias, thereby causing the suspension of the hearing.

The controversial politician with his signature shock of dyed-blonde hair 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".

He 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.

Wilders later claimed that presiding judge Jan Moors had reacted to his vow of silence in a way that suggested partiality.

Moors had observed that Wilders is often accused of making wild statements and then avoiding the discussions they evoke, adding "it seems as if you're doing it again".

"Inappropriate, even scandalous", the politician reacted, adding: "A fair trial is no longer possible" as he asked for Moors and two assistant judges to be recused.

Interrupting the trial, a panel of three other judges was hastily convened to consider this application. Judgment will be handed down at 2:00 pm (1200 GMT) on Tuesday.

Monday's proceedings, attended by a dozen of Wilders' Party for Freedom's 24 MPs in the public gallery, were 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 are 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, a ba on 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 votes they need to pass decisions through parliament in return for a voice in policy formation.

© 2010 AFP

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