Sunday 23 October 2016

Wilders hate speech trial will go ahead, says Dutch court

Published 14/10/2016 | 11:16

Right-wing Dutch MP Geert Wilders will stand trial
Right-wing Dutch MP Geert Wilders will stand trial

A Dutch court has rejected an appeal by anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders to throw out his hate speech prosecution before it goes to trial this month.

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"Prosecuted for what millions of people believe," Mr Wilders tweeted in his first reaction to the decision.

Mr Wilders and his lawyers have branded his prosecution "a political witch hunt" and did not attend the brief hearing at The Hague District Court.

Clearing the trial to start on October 31, Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said the court "rejects the defence's objections".

The case against Mr Wilders, who was previously acquitted in 2011 of insulting Islam, centres on comments made before and after Dutch local elections in 2014.

At one party meeting, he asked supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands, drawing them into the chant of "Fewer. Fewer. Fewer".

"We'll take care of it," he replied.

The trial comes just months before parliamentary elections due in March, which could see Mr Wilders' Freedom Party emerge as the largest party.

A poll of polls earlier this month had the Freedom Party narrowly behind the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte - who will be seeking his third term at the elections.

The court said that previous cases in European courts have established that politicians must be given a wide-ranging freedom of expression, but at the same time should "avoid public statements that feed intolerance. Where the border lies between the two will be debated in this Dutch trial".

The court also rejected Mr Wilders' argument that he should not be prosecuted now as he had not been prosecuted in the past for similar statements about Moroccans.

At a previous hearing, Mr Wilders' defence lawyer, Geert-Jan Knoops, told judges that the freedom of expression is "the last freedom Mr. Wilders has left".

The politician has lived with around-the clock protection for more than a decade because of repeated death threats.


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