Religious criticism not a crime, Dutch MP's trial told

15th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders' criticism of the Muslim religion, though some of it may be "disgraceful", is not a crime, prosecutors argued in the politician's hate speech trial on Friday.

"It may be seen as disgraceful, inhumane etcetera, etcetera, but the question we have to ask ourselves is whether the statement that he is charged with amounts to incitement of hatred," prosecutor Birgit van Roessel told the Amsterdam district court.

The answer is negative, she said, adding that criticism of religion could never be punishable -- only of religious followers.

"The wounding of feelings, religious feelings, plays no role", Van Roessel told the court.

Wilders, a shadow partner of the new, rightist coalition government inaugurated on Thursday, went on trial last week for calling Islam "fascist" and likening the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf".

In June 2008, the Dutch prosecuting service dismissed dozens of complaints against the politician from individuals 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" -- compelling the prosecution to mount a case against him.

On Tuesday, the prosecution had sought Wilders' acquittal for giving offence to Muslims, the first of the five charges against him, and asked judges not to award damages to his accusers.

Argument on the penalty continued on Friday on the remaining four charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims and people of non-Western immigrant origin, particularly Moroccans.

Among other statements, Wilders, 47, was charged with stating that the country's borders would close immediately for all people of non-Western immigrant origin were he to become prime minister.

Also on the charge sheet is a statement that Muslims should conform to the "dominant culture" or be put out of the country.

"He expects an adaptation from Muslims. We can see this as unneccessary, unreasonable and even shameful ... but it does not amount to incitement to hatred," Van Roessel said.

The controversial politician, known for his signature shock of dyed-blonde hair, risks up to a year in jail or a 7,600-euro fine for 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.

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

His Party for Freedom (PVV) has signed a pact to provide a minority cabinet of the Christian Democrats and liberals with the votes they need in parliament in return for a voice in policy formation.

Judgment is expected on November 5.

© 2010 AFP

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