Dutch fire­brand MP found guilty of dis­crim­i­na­tion

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SCHIPHOL, Nether­lands:

Pop­ulist anti-Is­lam Dutch MP Geert Wilders was found guilty yes­ter­day of dis­crim­i­na­tion against Moroc­cans, but ac­quit­ted of hate speech in a closely-watched trial ahead of next year’s key elec­tion.

But the judges de­cided not to im­pose any sen­tence or fine, and Wilders im­me­di­ately vowed to ap­peal against what he said was a bid to “neu­tralise” him ahead of the March polls. “I will never be silent. You will not be able to stop me,” he vowed in a video mes­sage sent swiftly af­ter the ver­dict was handed down. Wilders, whose Freedom Party (PVV) is ey­ing an upset vic­tory in the March 2017 polls, was charged with two counts aris­ing out of com­ments he made in 2014 around lo­cal elec­tions. Af­ter a three-week trial which Wilders had largely snubbed, the three judges ruled “the in­flam­ma­tory char­ac­ter of the way in which the state­ments were made have in­cited oth­ers to dis­crim­i­nate peo­ple of Moroccan ori­gin.”

But they added there was “in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence” his words amounted to in­cite­ment to ha­tred. The judges also dis­missed the pros­e­cu­tion’s request to im­pose a 5,000-euro ($5,300) fine. “In this case, the most im­por­tant ques­tion is whether Wilders has crossed a line. This judge­ment has an­swered that ques­tion,” the judges said in their ver­dict. “There­with, the cham­ber finds that jus­tice has been done. Con­se­quently, no pun­ish­ment is im­posed.” The most re­cent opin­ion polls pre­dict the PVV will top the March vote, say­ing it could seize 34 spots in the 150seat lower house of Dutch par­lia­ment, some 10 ahead of his near­est ri­val, Prime Min­is­ter Mark Rutte’s Lib­er­als. Rather than hurt­ing the con­tro­ver­sial law­maker, ob­servers say his trial has boosted his pop­u­lar­ity among Dutch vot­ers, wor­ried about the in­flux of im­mi­grants and driven by euroscep­tic sen­ti­ments.

Amid a string of pop­ulist vic­to­ries in Europe and the Novem­ber elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as the next US pres­i­dent, the out­come of the Dutch vote will be keenly watched.

‘Fewer Moroc­cans’

The trial had fo­cused in par­tic­u­lar on a state­ment made at a 2014 lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tion rally in The Hague, when he asked sup­port­ers whether they wanted “fewer or more Moroc­cans in your city and in the Nether­lands”. When the crowd shouted back “Fewer! Fewer!” a smil­ing Wilders an­swered:

“We’re go­ing to or­gan­ise that.” Prose­cu­tors said they were sat­is­fied with the ver­dict. “For us it was im­por­tant that we set a norm, namely that a politician can­not dis­crim­i­nate against a group based on their ori­gin.

This prin­ci­ple and set­ting the norm was more im­por­tant than the fine,” pros­e­cu­tor Frans Zon­n­eveld told AFP. The po­lice had re­ceived 6,400 com­plaints about Wilders’s com­ments. He “singled out an en­tire group of cit­i­zens with­out mak­ing any dis­tinc­tion,” the judges ruled.

“This group has less rights to re­side in the Nether­lands. There­with, this state­ment can be re­garded as af­fect­ing the dig­nity of this group as a whole. It is in­sult­ing for the en­tire group.” But af­ter the judge­ment, Wilders said in a tweet: “Three PVV-hat­ing judges de­clare Moroc­cans to be a race and con­vict me and half of the Nether­lands. Mad­ness.”

And in a video mes­sage, posted to YouTube, he added: “To­day I was con­victed in a po­lit­i­cal trial, which shortly be­fore the elec­tions at­tempts to neu­tralise the leader of the largest and most pop­u­lar op­po­si­tion party.”

Out­side the court­house, a Wilders sup­porter who asked not to be named told AFP: “I’m not wor­ried... He will win on ap­peal.”

Pre­sid­ing judge Hen­drik Steen­huis how­ever had harsh words for the plat­inum-blond haired Wilders say­ing his dis­parag­ing com­ments about judges and the ju­di­ciary in The Nether­lands “are un­wor­thy of an elected politician.”

If elected as the low­lands coun­try’s new prime min­is­ter, Wilders has among other things vowed to con­fis­cate Ko­rans, close mosques and Is­lamic schools, shut Dutch borders and ban mi­grants from Is­lamic coun­tries.

His views have seen him re­ceive death threats in­clud­ing from ter­ror groups such as the Is­lamic State group and Al-Qaeda. He is guarded at all times and called the “best pro­tected man in The Nether­lands”. — AFP

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