Dutch anti-Islam MP rejects hate speech accusations
Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders remained defiant Monday as he went on trial for inciting racial hatred against Muslims, insisting he was defending the right to free speech.
"I am on trial, but on trial with me is the freedom of expression of many Dutch citizens," Wilders, set to become a shadow partner in the next government, told the Amsterdam district court.
The controversial politician with his trademark shock of dyed-blonde hair told the court he was being persecuted for "stating my opinion in the context of public debate", adding: "I can assure you, I will continue proclaiming it."
Wilders, 47, 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.
He told judge Jan Moors his intention was "to defend freedom of expression and leave a better Netherlands for the next generation".
"Democracy requires free and open debate, particularly over controversial issues," he said as a dozen of his Party for Freedom's 24 MPs looked on from the public gallery.
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 politician told the court that apart from this opening statement, he would rely on his right to remain silent and would not answer any questions. This was on the advice of his advocate, Bram Moszkowicz.
"I have said everything I wanted to say and will not take back a single word," Wilders said.
© 2010 AFP