Dutch populist Wilders to be tried for 'fewer Moroccans' vow
Dutch far-right populist lawmaker Geert Wilders is be tried for inciting racial hatred after pledging in March to ensure there will be "fewer Moroccans" in the Netherlands, prosecutors said Thursday.
"The public prosecutor in The Hague is to prosecute Geert Wilders on charges of insulting a group of people based on race and incitement to discrimination and hatred," prosecutors said in a statement.
"Politicians may go far in their statements, that's part of freedom of expression, but this freedom is limited by the prohibition of discrimination," it said, adding that no date had yet been set for the trial.
The case centres on comments the populist, famous for his trademark peroxide blond hair, made at a March 19 rally after local elections.
He asked his supporters whether they wanted "fewer or more Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands?"
When the crowd shouted "Fewer! Fewer!" a smiling Wilders answered: "We're going to organise that."
The remark led to 6,400 legal complaints being lodged across the Netherlands, and criticism was even voiced within Wilders's own Party for Freedom (PVV).
- 'Incomprehensible' -
Wilders said the decision to prosecute was "incomprehensible".
"I have said what millions of people think," he said in a statement.
"For the second time, apparently they want to deal with someone who speaks the truth."
A court in 2011 acquitted Wilders on hate-speech charges, ruling that he had targeted a religion, which is permitted under Dutch freedom of speech laws, rather than a specific ethnic group.
"The public prosecutor would do better to devote time to prosecuting jihadis instead of me," Wilders added, in reference to Dutch nationals going to fight with the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
Wilders is often reviled in Dutch immigrant communities for his fiery anti-Islam rhetoric, but his PVV party continues to ride high in opinion polls, some of which say the PVV is the most popular party in the Netherlands.
The party has however failed to translate that apparent popularity into signficant electoral success, with 12 MPs in the 150-seat parliament.
- 'Positive signal' -
Mohamed Rabbae of the Moroccan National Council, which represents the Netherlands' large Moroccan community, said the prosecution sent a "positive signal to society".
"This step shows that everyone is equal and Mr Wilders is not above the law. We want to keep this country together, it is important that everyone is treated equally," Rabbae told national news agency ANP.
"The decision has been a long time coming. But I understand that the prosecutor had to take time for this complex issue," he said after commentators admitted that the case could be difficult for prosecutors to prove.
In the past, the flamboyant politician has compared the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and has called Islam a fascist religion.
He has also thrown verbal barbs at the "hordes" of eastern European immigrants in the Netherlands and his party in 2012 set up an Internet site to collect complaints about immigrants "causing disturbances".
- 'Unprecedented backlash' -
Wilders' statement about Moroccans provoked an unprecedented backlash for his PVV party, with several members quitting.
"The PVV is on a slippery slope," PVV lawmaker Roland van Vliet wrote in March of his decision to quit the party and sit in parliament as an independent because of the call for fewer Moroccans.
"The time has come that I have to address my conscience about what's happening with the PVV," Van Vliet wrote.
Television and newspaper editors at the time said Wilders had "crossed the line", but agreed that Wilders knew what he was doing and relished the prospect of grandstanding at a possible trial.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte also criticised Wilders, saying his comments "left a bad taste in the mouth".
"He again has gone too far," he said.
© 2014 AFP