The Far-right Dutch politician who gained global notoriety with a film claiming links between the Koran and terrorism is to be put on trial for his public statements against Islam.
Geert Wilders, the leader of the extremist Freedom Party (PVV), said he was surprised that the Amsterdam Appeals Court is to allow his criminal prosecution for inciting hatred and of discriminating against Muslims by comparing their religion to Nazism.
"Mr Wilders' views constitute a criminal offence. [He] has insulted Islamic worshippers by attacking the symbols of the Islamic faith," the court stated, referring to his comparison of the Koran to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf.
Mr Wilders, who sports a peroxide-blond shock of hair, said he was "stunned" by the judgment. "This was the last thing I expected. The fact that I can no longer speak openly but have to go before the court makes this a very black day, not just for me but for freedom of expression in this country," said the 45-year-old MP. "What I do is to express my opinion on behalf of half a million people who voted for me and who think it should be possible to criticise Islam. We are fed up with the 'Islamisation' of the Netherlands."
The politician is a household name in the Netherlands thanks to his frequent pronouncements on the country's Muslim minority and his calls to ban the Koran on the grounds of being "fascist". He became notorious last year after the release of his short film about the Koran, Fitna, which juxtaposed pages from the Koran with scenes of torture and violence, including the attacks on the World Trade Centre. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, called the film "offensively anti-Islamic".
The decision by the Amsterdam Appeals Court, the second-highest legal authority in the country, overturns an earlier ruling by the Dutch Prosecution Service, which last June dismissed hundreds of complaints against Mr Wilders on the grounds that his utterances had been made "in the context of public debate", a position that was endorsed by the Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, a Christian Democrat.
But yesterday, the appeals court argued that the criminal prosecution did not conflict with Mr Wilders' right to freedom of expression and said it based its decision on the standards set by the European Court of Human Rights. "This is my finest hour," said Gerard Spong, the lawyer who filed the complaints. "The American President Barack Obama said 'we are free in diversity' but you can't have diversity if you brand one group as extremists."