Dutch anti-Islam MP goes on trial for hate speech
Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders, set to become a shadow partner of the next coalition government, goes on trial in Amsterdam on Monday for inciting hatred against Muslims.
The controversial politician with his signature shock of blonde-dyed hair risks up to a year in jail or a 7,600-euro fine, according to prosecutors, for calling Islam "fascist" and likening the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf.
"This is about freedom of speech," Wilders' lawyer Bram Moszkowicz told AFP.
"My client believes that in the Netherlands, one must be able to say whatever one wants, barring incitement to violence."
Wilders, 47, will stand trial on five charges of giving religious offence to Muslims and inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims and people of non-western immigrant origin, particularly Moroccans.
The target of death threats, Wilders enjoys 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.
On the long list of utterances made between October 2006 and March 2008 in Dutch newspapers and on Internet forums, prosecutors say that Wilders described Islam as "the sick ideology of Allah and Mohammed" and its holy book as "the Islamic Mein Kampf".
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.
Ever defiant, Wilders "is of the opinion that he did not say anything punishable," Moszkowicz said.
Wilders, who was temporarily banned from Britain last year on race hate grounds, is expected to elaborate on this theme when he addresses judge Jan Moors from the dock of the Amsterdam district court on Monday morning.
The court will hear evidence on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, followed by the prosecution's penalty request the following week.
Wilders will plead on October 19, and judgment is expected on November 4, according to a programme provided by the court.
No witnesses will testiefy. The evidence of three experts for the prosecution was submitted in writing, while Wilders' three witnesses, said to be "experts on Islam", were heard by an examining judge behind closed doors.
In June 2008, the prosecuting 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 be put on trial as his utterances were "sowing hatred" and exceeded the boundaries of political debate.
Compelled to put Wilders in the dock, the prosecution could still ask the court to acquit him, prosecution spokesman Franklin Wattimena told AFP.
Home Affairs spokesman Frank Wassenaar added that Wilders, if convicted, would only be disqualified from holding a parliamentary seat if the judge declared him ineligible -- which would be unprecedented.
Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) came third in June 9 elections with 24 seats out of 150 in the Dutch lower house of parliament.
Under a coalition deal being finalised, his PVV will provide a minority cabinet of the Christian Democrats and liberals the majority they need to pass decisions through parliament in return for a voice in policy formation.
At the announcement Thursday of a draft coalition agreement, Wilders said the Netherlands will introduce a burqa ban and halve immigration.
© 2010 AFP