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Europe

Dutch anti-Islam politician goes on trial

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-10-04

Geert Wilders, the notorious Dutch MP whose far-right party is poised to support a new minority government, appeared in a court in Amsterdam on Monday charged with three counts of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims.

 

REUTERS - Dutch anti-Islamist politician Geert Wilders, who plays a controversial but pivotal role in the formation of a new Dutch government, appeared in court on Monday charged with inciting hatred against Muslims.
 
Wilders, who has 24-hour police guard because of death threats he has received, is charged on three counts of inciting hate and discrimination against Muslims in comments to the media and for insulting Muslims by comparing the Islamic faith to Nazism.
 
"I have said what I have said and I will not take one word back," Wilders said at the start of the hearing as he told the court he would invoke his right to remain silent.
 
The presiding judge said Wilders has been accused by others of avoiding engaging in debate and that it appeared he was doing the same again today. "The fact that we will keep asking you questions is not to pester you," the judge said.
 
Wilders' lawyer said the judge's comments could be construed as bias, prompting the court to adjourn until 1000 GMT so that new judges could be put in place to hear the defence's concerns.
 
Government role
 
The trial comes at an awkward time for Wilders, whose party is poised to gain a powerful role in the running of the country through its support of a minority government made up of the Liberals (VVD) and Christian Democrat (CDA) parties.
 
A CDA congress voted in favour of entering into a minority government with support from the Freedom Party on Saturday, but remains split over the prospect of relying on Wilders' support and a final decision on the matter will be made on Tuesday.
 
Following elections in June, the VVD and CDA hold between them just 52 seats in the 150-seat parliament. With support from Wilders they can get to a bare-minimum majority of 76 seats.
 
"He divides, he creates hate, he creates conflicts between people. Some people can't accept this. Other people can accept this," said Mohammed Rabbae of the National Council for Moroccans.
 
Prior to invoking his right to silence, Wilders said these were "strange days" as he had been forced to combine "wearisome" government coalition talks with his preparation for the trial.
 
"The freedom of speech of at least 1.5 million people is on trial with me," Wilders said earlier on a social media site, referring to the number of voters his Freedom Party won at the June 9 elections. He added Monday would be a "terrible day."
 
If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment or a fine, but would be able to keep his parliamentary seat. In theory, the court could impose a sentence preventing him from running for re-election, but such a drastic ruling is considered by legal experts to be highly unlikely.
 
There was a small group of anti-Wilders protestors outside the heavily-policed Amsterdam court building.
 
One protest banner said a Wilders-backed Dutch government would stand for "discord and polarisation." Wilders made the film "Fitna" in 2008 which accused the Koran of inciting violence and mixed images of terrorist attacks with quotations from the Islamic holy book.
 
He has also made outspoken remarks to the media, such as an opinion piece in a Dutch daily in which he compared Islam to fascism and the Koran to Adolf Hitler's book "Mein Kampf".
 
"It has never happened before that such a prominent member of the parliament and a parliamentary leader needs to answer up to charges in front of a criminal court for comments inciting hate," high-profile lawyer Gerard Spong told Dutch BNR radio.
 
The trial will be held over several days in October, with a ruling expected on Nov. 4.

 

Date created : 2010-10-04

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