Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders is due to appear in an Amsterdam court on Wednesday on charges of religious insult and anti-Islam incitement.
The prosecution claims his 2008 short film “Fitna“, as well as statements made in interviews and speeches, incite hatred against Muslims. Wilders has called Islam a “backward” culture and the Koran a “fascist book that incites people to violence.”August, 2007: Geert Wilders calls for a ban on the Quran.
The politician and lawmaker claims his trial is “political” and says any statements he made fell under the right to freedom of expression.
His campaigning against the spread of Islam and the alleged “islamization” of the Netherlands has won Wilders growing popularity in his home country, with his party now enjoying wider support than the governing parties.
Critics warn that Wilders could use the trial to depict himself as a martyr, which could bring him even more political support. The maximum sentence he faces is 16 months in prison and a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($14,000).
The indictment accuses Wilders of insulting Muslims by describing Islam as a fascist religion and campaigning for the banning of the Koran, which the politician has repeatedly compared to Adolf Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf”. He has also proposed closing “radical” mosques.
Wilders also called for no more Muslim immigrants to be allowed into the country. His short film “Fitna”, released in 2008, offended many Muslims by juxtaposing quotations from the Koran against images of terrorism perpetrated by Islamic radicals.
Around six percent of the 16.5 million population of the Netherlands are Muslim, most them with Moroccan or Turkish roots.
Mr Wilders, who has made no secret of his ambition to become Prime Minister, has called his indictment a political trial but the Amsterdam Court of Appeal decided that it was in the public interest to prosecute him because his comments have been “so insulting to Muslims”.
“I am being prosecuted for my political convictions,” Mr Wilders said this week.
“The freedom of speech is on the verge of collapsing,” Mr Wilders added. “If a politician is not allowed to criticise an ideology anymore this means that we are lost, and it will lead to the end of our freedom. However, I remain combative: I am convinced that I will be acquitted.”
He faces up to two years in prison if convicted but his opponents fear that, win or lose, his Freedom Party will receive a boost in next year’s election where it is expected to challenge the ruling Christian Democrats for the largest party vote.
A spokeswoman for the Public Prosecution Office said that the demand for the case came from a variety of individuals and organisations which complained about comments made by Mr Wilders.
“The Court of Appeal determined that statements equating Islam to Nazism were a punishable insult to Islamic worshippers and therefore constituted ground for criminal prosecution,” she said.
In its judgment ordering the prosecution of Mr Wilders the Court of Appeal stated: “The court considers this so insulting for Muslims that it is in the public interest to prosecute Wilders. By attacking the symbols of the Muslim religion, he also insulted Muslim believers. In a democratic system, hate speech is considered to be so serious that it is in the general interest to draw a clear line.”
Many of Mr. Wilders’ supporters — as was as many of his detractors — believe his trial to be politically motivated.
Note Islamism critic Daniel Pipes writes:
>The Netherlands’ fractured political scene means the PVV must either find willing partners to form a governing coalition (a difficult task, given how leftists and Muslims have demonized Wilders as a “right-wing extremist”) or win a majority of the seats in parliament (a distant prospect).
Wilders must also overcome his opponents’ dirty tactics. Most notably, they have finally, after years of preliminary skirmishes, succeeded in dragging him to court on charges of hate speech and incitement to hatred. The public prosecutor’s case against Wilders opens in Amsterdam on January 20; if convicted, Wilders faces a fine of up to $14,000 or as many as 16 months in jail.
Remember, he is his country’s leading politician. Plus, due to threats against his life, he always travels with bodyguards and incessantly changes safe houses. Who exactly, one wonders, is the victim of incitement?
Although I disagree with Wilders about Islam (I respect the religion but fight Islamists with all I have), we stand shoulder-to-shoulder against the lawsuit. I reject the criminalization of political differences, particularly attempts to thwart a grassroots political movement via the courts. Accordingly, the Middle East Forum’s Legal Project has worked on Wilders’ behalf, raising substantial funds for his defense and helping in other ways. We do so convinced of the paramount importance to talk freely in public during time of war about the nature of the enemy.
Ironically, were Wilders fined or jailed, it would probably enhance his chances of becoming prime minister. But principle outweighs political tactics here. He represents all Westerners who cherish their civilization. The outcome of his trial and his freedom to speak has implications for us all.