Dutch anti-Is­lam Wilders to snub hate speech trial

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

THE HAGUE:

De­fi­ant Dutch anti-Is­lam politi­cian Geert Wilders said yes­ter­day he will refuse to at­tend his hate speech trial next week, dub­bing it a trav­esty aimed at si­lenc­ing him as the coun­try pre­pares for 2017 elec­tions. The trial opens on Mon­day be­fore a three-judge bench with the far­right politi­cian fac­ing charges of in­sult­ing a racial group and in­cit­ing racial ha­tred for com­ments he made about Moroc­cans liv­ing in the Nether­lands. “It is my right and my duty as a politi­cian to speak about the prob­lems in our coun­try,” Wilders said in a state­ment yes­ter­day, dub­bing the case “a po­lit­i­cal trial, in which I refuse to co­op­er­ate”.

It comes as opin­ion polls have shown his far-right Free­dom Party (PVV) do­ing well ahead of March elec­tions. Af­ter rid­ing high amid the mi­grant cri­sis, the party is now polling neck-and-neck with Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Lib­er­als each pre­dicted to win be­tween 25 to 29 seats in the 150-seat par­lia­ment. Set to last un­til Novem­ber 25, the trial fo­cuses on a com­ment made at a March 2014 rally when Wilders asked sup­port­ers if they wanted “fewer or more Moroc­cans in your city and in the Nether­lands?” When the crowd shouted back “Fewer! Fewer!” Wilders an­swered: “We’re go­ing to or­ga­nize that.” It is the sec­ond such trial for Wilders who was ac­quit­ted on sim­i­lar charges in 2011.

‘Voice of mil­lions’

Wilders said yes­ter­day he would leave his de­fense in the hands of his lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops and in­stead “go to work” in the par­lia­ment in The Hague. The court con­firmed in a state­ment that the trial would go ahead, adding like any de­fen­dant Wilders had the right not to ap­pear. While the court can force some­one to turn up, “it is not known whether it will do so in this case,” it added. Wilders’ 2014 state­ments were met with out­rage in­clud­ing from the small, but vo­cal Dutch Mus­lim com­mu­nity. An avalanche of 6,400 com­plaints fol­lowed, and he faced con­dem­na­tion from fel­low MPs.

Judges ear­lier this month dis­missed ar­gu­ments by Wilders’ lawyers that the trial was “po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated” adding they did not be­lieve it will im­pact the PVV’s elec­tion cam­paign. Politi­cians “are granted broad free­doms of ex­pres­sion be­cause of their of­fi­cial po­si­tion,” the judges ruled last month. “Pre­cisely there­fore politi­cians have an im­por­tant role to avoid feed­ing in­tol­er­ance by mak­ing these kind of public state­ments.” Wilders hit back yes­ter­day say­ing “it is a trav­esty that I have to stand trial be­cause I spoke about fewer Moroc­cans.” “Mil­lions of Dutch ci­ti­zens (43 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion) want fewer Moroc­cans,” he claimed. “Not be­cause they de­spise all Moroc­cans or want all Moroc­cans out of the coun­try, but be­cause they are sick and tired of the nui­sance and ter­ror caused by so many Moroc­cans.”

‘Ban the Qu­ran’

Wilders drew flak when he un­veiled his party’s con­tro­ver­sial elec­tion pro­gram say­ing he would con­fis­cate Ko­rans and close mosques if he wins the elec­tions. He is of­ten de­scribed as “the most heav­ily guarded man” in The Nether­lands and the trial is tak­ing place in a high-se­cu­rity court­house in Schiphol. His name has “ap­peared on hit-lists drawn up by Al-Qaeda, the Tale­ban and the Is­lamic State group”, ac­cord­ing to his lawyer. If found guilty, Wilders could face up to two years in jail or a fine of more than 20,000 euros ($22,000). —

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