Dutch 'extremist' Geert Wilders wins appeal to enter Britain

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The Independent Online

The far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders today won his appeal against the Government's decision to ban him from entering Britain.

The politician, who has been accused of Islamophobia, was told at the start of this year by the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith that he would be refused entry should he attempt to enter the UK.

But today's ruling by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal means that Wilders could now be allowed into the country.

He was due to show his short film Fitna, which criticises the Koran as a "fascist book", at the House of Lords in February. But Ms Smith said his presence had the potential to "threaten community harmony and therefore public safety".

Mr Wilders, who leads the Freedom Party in his own country, challenged the decision and flew to Heathrow but was immediately turned back and forced to return to the Netherlands.

When he was refused entry, Mr Wilders said it was a "very sad day" for UK democracy. He said: "My message to the British Government is that...even if you don't like me, even if you don't like my thoughts, be brave and defend freedom of speech. If you don't then you are weak and you are cowards."

A Home Office spokesman said the Government was considering whether to appeal the decision. As it stands the ruling means that, should Mr Wilders decide to, he can now enter Britain. But should the Government appeal he will still be banned until the appeal is heard.

A spokesman said: "We are disappointed by the court's decision today. The Government opposes extremism is all its forms. The decision to refuse Wilders admission was taken on the basis that his presence could have inflamed tensions between our communities and have led to inter-faith violence. We still maintain this view."

Mr Wilders said that he now plans to visit Britain "as soon as I can and as soon as is possible".

He told Radio Netherlands: "I am very happy that the court in London decided to overrule the decision of the UK government not to allow me to enter the UK. It is not only a victory for me but for the freedom of speech.

"The UK government should stand strong behind the concept of the freedom of speech. They did not do that. Fortunately for me and for the freedom of speech the court was more clever and decided in the right direction."

In reaction to the Home Office statement which emphasised the Government's opposition to extremism, Mr Wilders, who says he does not hate Muslims, but does hate Islam, added: "I am not an extremist. I am nothing like that at all."

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