Dutch anti-Islam MP in court on hate speech charges

AFP , Friday 18 Mar 2016

Far-right anti-immigrant Dutch MP Geert Wilders appeared before a top security court Friday for a hearing ahead of his trial later this year on charges of incitement to hatred.

On his way to the tribunal, Wilders tweeted: "On my way to the courthouse. Nobody will silence me. No terrorist, no prime minister and no court."

The case against Wilders centres on comments by the populist politician -- famous for his trademark peroxide blond hairdo -- at a March 2014 local election rally.

He asked supporters in The Hague 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."

The remark triggered 6,400 complaints from across the Netherlands, and Wilders even faced criticism from within his Party for Freedom (PVV).

"You are here as a suspect in a criminal case. You are not required to say anything or answer any questions," Judge Hendrik Steenhuis told him as the hearing started.

Dressed in a blue suit, Wilders appeared relaxed, getting out his phone to take a video of the photographers jostling to take his picture.

"Racism and hatred towards foreigners are in direct contravention of the freedoms we have in a democratic society," prosecutor Wouter Bos told the court.

"The prosecution believes that you insulted Moroccans as a group and committed incitement to hate speech," he added, saying that while "freedom of speech is a fundamental principle .... (it) is not an absolute."

But Wilders' lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops told a three-judge bench the case should be stopped immediately so an investigation could be launched into how sensitive documents including Wilders' opening statement had been leaked to a Dutch newspaper.

The popular tabloid Algemeen Dagblad on Friday printed an unauthorised version of Wilders' defence strategy as well as a draft of his opening statement which both Wilders and Knoops described as a "shocking" development.

"We believe a crime has been committed," said Knoops, adding that "communications between an advocate and his client are sacrosanct."

"We absolutely want to know what happened. There may be more documents that are in the hands of third parties," he said.

Outside the heavily-fortified court complex, a handful of supporters, waving Dutch flags and scarfs, gathered early Friday watched by dozens of police and gendarmes.

Security forces lined the road to the high-security complex, a few kilometres (miles) outside Schiphol Airport.

Some supporters wore pink hats depicting a cartoon pig, seen as an apparent insult to Islam and Muslims.

The spike in the numbers of refugees arriving in The Netherlands has polarised Dutch society, with Wilders's party tapping into popular discontent and currently topping opinion polls.

Wilders has denounced the decision to prosecute him as "incomprehensible," telling AFP in a recent interview that he was referring to a "criminal element" among Moroccans and not to the group as a whole.

Friday's hearing has been called to examine where the investigations stand ahead of the full trial due to start on October 31.

If found guilty, Wilders could face up to two years in jail or a fine of more than 20,000 euros.

Wilders, who has repeatedly denounced Islam and famously compared the Koran to Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," was acquitted during a first hate trial in 2011 which concluded he could not be found guilty because his remarks targeted a religion and not a specific group of people.

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