Dutch MP acquitted of hate speech charges
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Dutch far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders was acquitted in an Amsterdam court Thursday on hate speech charges. The judge stated that the “statements are acceptable within the context of the public debate."
AFP - Dutch far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders walked away from hate speech and discrimination charges Thursday for statements made attacking Islam, calling his acquittal a victory for freedom of speech.
"You are being acquitted on all the charges that were put against you," Judge Marcel van Oosten told Wilders who has been on trial in the Amsterdam regional court since October last year.
The flamboyant MP faced five counts of hate speech and discrimination for his anti-Islamic remarks on websites, Internet forums and in Dutch newspapers between October 2006 and March 2008, and in his controversial 17-minute movie "Fitna" ("Discord" in Arabic).
He also compared the Koran with Hitler's "Mein Kampf" while in "Fitna" he shows shocking images of the September 11 attacks in the United States and other onslaughts against Western targets interspersed with verses from the Muslim holy book.
"The bench finds that your statements are acceptable within the context of the public debate," the judge told the platinum-haired politician, whose case was boosted by a prosecution unwilling to take aim at him.
"The bench finds that although gross and denegrating, it did not give rise to hatred," said Judge van Oosten.
The 47-year-old Wilders, whose right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV) lends its support to a right-leaning Dutch coalition government, told journalists afterwards he was "overjoyed and very happy" to have been acquitted.
"It is not only a victory for me but also a victory for freedom of speech," he said outside the courtroom.
He added: "It means it is legal to criticise Islam."
The acquittal comes after Wilders last month argued before judges that he was "defending freedom in the Netherlands" against Islam.
One of Europe's most heavily-guarded politicians, the lawmaker told the court he was "obliged to speak" because The Netherlands is "under threat" from Islam.
Wilders previously said he was "defending the character, the identity, the culture" of The Netherlands.
His case has been helped by a reluctant prosecution, which last month again asked for his acquittal, saying that although his comments may have frequently caused anxiety and insult, they were not criminal as they criticised Islam as a religion and not Muslims as a people.
The prosecution's unwillingness to take aim at Wilders dates as far back as 2008 when it refused to take up a case against him following complaints. On January 21, 2009, however, the Amsterdam appeals court forced the prosecution to mount a case against him.
Wilders' trial also comes against a backdrop of plans by the central-right Dutch government to move away from a multicultural approach towards a tougher stance against those who ignore Dutch values and break the law.
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