'Hate' trial for far-right politician Geert Wilders

Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders appealed for freedom of expression today as he went on trial for alleged hate speech at a time when his popularity and influence in the Netherlands are near all-time highs.



Prosecutors say Wilders has incited hate against Muslims, pointing to a litany of quotes and remarks he has made in recent years. In one opinion piece he wrote "I've had enough of Islam in the Netherlands; let not one more Muslim immigrate," adding "I've had enough of the Koran in the Netherlands: Forbid that fascist book."



Wilders argues he has a right to freedom of speech and that his remarks were within the bounds of the law.



"I am a suspect here because I have expressed my opinion as a representative of the people," Wilders told judges at the start of the trial.



"Formally I'm on trial here today, but with me, the freedom of expression of many, many Dutch people is also being judged," he said, referring to more than 1.4 million voters who made his party the country's third-largest in June elections.



If convicted he could face up to a year in jail, though a fine would be more likely. He could keep his seat in parliament regardless of the outcome.



The trial was adjourned until Tuesday shortly after Wilders' opening remarks, when he declined to answer any questions from the three judges, invoking his right to remain silent.



Presiding judge Jan Moors said Wilders is known for making bold statements but avoiding discussions, and added that "it appears you're doing so again".



Wilders' lawyer, Bram Moszkowicz, said the remark showed Moors is biased against Wilders and moved to have him substituted. The move delayed the trial for at least a day as a separate panel considers the request.



The move for a delay comes at delicate moment in Dutch politics when Wilders is close to seeing many of his policy goals realised.



Wilders' Freedom Party has agreed to support a new right-wing Dutch government set to take office this month, despite reservations even by some politicians about working with Wilders.



In return, his political allies have promised to carry out much of his anti-immigration agenda. They say they will turn away more asylum-seekers, and cut immigration from non-Western countries in half, notably by making it difficult for foreign spouses or children to join families that have already immigrated and become Dutch citizens.



They also plan to force new immigrants to pay for their own mandatory citizenship classes.



Immigration-related issues have dominated politics in the Netherlands and much of Europe over the past decade. Wilders has drawn comparisons with populists such as the late Jorg Haider in Austria and Jean-Marie Le Pen in France.



His stances resound deeply with Dutch voters, who have reconsidered their famous tolerance amid fears their own culture is being eroded by immigrants who don't share their values. Around 6% of the Dutch population is now Muslim.



The flamboyant, bleach-blond politician also has called for taxing clothing commonly worn by Muslims, such as headscarves - or "head rags," as he once called them - because they "pollute" the Dutch landscape.



He may be best known for the 2008 short film Fitna, which offended Muslims around the world by juxtaposing Koran verses with images of terrorism by Islamic radicals.



In a sign of the emotions at stake in Wilders' political rise, Naziism is invoked on both sides. Wilders compares the growth of Islam influences in the Netherlands to the rise of Nazi ideology, while his critics say his populist, anti-foreigner rhetoric is reminiscent of Hitler's.



A handful of anti-Wilders protesters gathered outside the court behind a banner reading "fascism rules," with a Dutch pun on Wilders' name.



Mohamed Rabbae, chairman of the moderate National Moroccan Council, said outside the court that he hoped judges would force Wilders to issue an apology for his past remarks.



"We are not for getting Mr Wilders in prison. We are for correcting him," Rabbae said.



The case has generated huge interest in the Netherlands and the opening was broadcast live on television.



The formal charges are insulting a group on the basis of its religion and inciting discrimination and/or hatred.



Convictions for discriminatory remarks are frequent in the Netherlands, but penalties are rarely greater than a small fine.



Prosecutors were initially reluctant to bring Wilders' case to court, saying his remarks appeared directed toward Islam as an ideology rather than intended to insult Muslims as a group.



But they were eventually ordered to do so by a judge.



Prosecutors won't rule out dropping some or all charges or demanding no sentence when the trial comes to its concluding phase.



A verdict is expected on November 4, though if the current panel of judges is replaced, the trial will be delayed for months.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss