Wilders and his Freedom Party constitute one of the most important populist anti-Islam voices in the Dutch public debates on Islam, European integration and immigration. Wilders’ views regarding Islam have made him a controversial figure and after the murder of TV director and writer Theo van Gogh by a Moroccan-Dutch Muslim he receives permanent personal protection. In 2009 the Public Prosecutor (after an initial refusal) was forced to prosecute Wilders under hate speech laws. After the Public Prosecutor asked Wilders to be acquitted of all charges the court decided as such in 2011.
On Monday the second trial started. Wilders defended himself, via his lawyer, in court against accusations of hate speech and inciting racial hatred. The allegations refer to comments he made during a rally 18 months ago, when he called for fewer Moroccans in the country.
Local elections 2014
The leader of the Freedom Party Geert Wilders received a lot of criticism after a comment he made on the 2014 campaign trail at a market in The Hague on 18 March 2014.
Geert Wilders was on a market in The Hague with the local frontrunner for the Freedom Party, Leon de Jong, campaigning for municipal council elections which were set for 19 March 2014. During the visit Wilders stated on camera: “Most important are the people here on the market, the Hagenaars, Hagenezen and Scheveningers. We are doing it for those people. They are voting for a safer and more social city with fewer problems and, if possible also fewer Moroccans.” TThe day before the local elections were held, Wilders asked his audience during a party rally in The Hague whether they wanted ‘more or less Moroccans’ and the audience shouted ‘less’ (as they were instructed to do so).
In so doing Wilders expanded his rhetoric of exclusion from not only Islam and its manifestations to an entire ethnic category: Moroccan-Dutch people.
Wilders’ statements resulted in many angry reactions among politicians, Muslim organisations and organisations of Moroccan-Dutch. The police and the public prosecutor made it easy for people to file a complaint which several thousand people did. During the pre-trial hearings it became clear that not everyone who filed a complaint was actually aware of what they were complaining about. The public prosecution however does not need to receive complaints as it can prosecute these cases anyway.
Besides the complaints also other actions were taken such as a #bornhere campaign.
Presenting the case
The primary judge of the three reconstructed the events surrounding the two appearances. The court wanted to determine whether the comments had been impulsive, off-the-cuff remarks, or planned in advance. Important in this regard is that Wilders repeated his statement after the first occurrence even despite complaints. He even acknowledged that his comments could lead to prosecution.
The judges also wanted know how to explain the fact that later Wilders stated he was talking about ‘criminal Moroccans’ while at the same time refusing to withdraw his statements made on the market.
According to one of the other judges there were so many complaints that the police feared they would need to much capacity for handling them.
In December 2014, the public prosecution department announced it would take Wilders to court for discrimination and inciting hatred based upon the remarks mentioned here: “Politicians can go far in what they say, that is part of freedom of speech. But the freedom is limited by the ban on discrimination”, according to the Public Prosecutor.
The Public Prosecution Service suspects Geert Wilders of insulting a group of people because of their race and of inciting hatred and discrimination of Moroccans.
Two fundamental rights touching eachother here: the freedom of speech and the prohibition on discrimination. Discrimination and incitement of hatred are punishable offences. Every Dutch person must take account of that. Parliamentarians have great freedom so say what they stand for. However, it does not exempt them from the responsibility of complying with the law according to the public prosecutor.
The maximum sentence is a term of imprisonment of two years. In discriminatory cases, however, the judge will rarely impose a prison sentence but rather community service or a fine.
In the pre-trial hearings the defense lawyer, prof. mr. Knoops, argued that the discussion about the statements by Wilders belongs to the political discourse instead of in a courtroom.
Wilders has refused to attend the trial. A few minutes prior to the first hearing he released a statement:
His lawyer read a statement saying “I haven’t said anything wrong. It is my right and my duty as a politician to speak about the problems in our country. Because the Netherlands has a mega Moroccan problem.” The statement claimed Moroccans made up a disproportionate share of criminals and welfare recipients.
NL has huge problem with Moroccans.
To be silent about it is cowardly.
43% of Dutch want fewer Moroccans.
No verdict will change that.
— Geert Wilders (@geertwilderspvv) 31 oktober 2016
Wilders’ political Islamophobia, anti-migration and anti-EU politics
While Wilders is very popular but also very controversial among voters, the politician has been shunned by colleagues from rival political parties besides a brief interlude as the main supporter of a minority government a few years ago. However, other politicians have also turned to harsher rhetoric against migrants and Islam.
The Freedom Party would be the second party in Dutch parliament if elections were held now. Wilders combines a strong anti-Islam program with calls to have the Netherlands exit the EU and shut its borders to Muslim immigrants.
Wilders and his Freedom Party present a doomsday scenario of islamisation based upon an idealized vision of Dutch identity versus a crude representation of Islam as a violent and intolerant religion. His recently presented election program, national elections are scheduled for March 2017, focused in particular on Islam and a Nexit (like the Brexit but then for the Netherlands). It’s main objectives are banning the Quran, banning mosques and Muslim immigrants. He then stated: “With this A4, The Netherlands will be ours again.”
In a column for the AD newspaper, Wilders claimed to speak on behalf of “millions of Dutch people, fed up with the disruption and terror caused by so many Moroccans … If talking about that is an offence, the Netherlands is no longer a free country, but a dictatorship”.
Compared to the first trial (2011/2012) (when Wilders was acquitted and the public prosecution also sought acquittal), the jurisprudence regarding hate speech has changed. The Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled in 2014 that politicians must take responsibility for what they say while exercising their freedom of speech in public. In particular important is that it stated that the context of what they say is relevant too. Furthermore, this case appears to be stronger because the comments are not about a religion, but directed against an ethnic group.
Thursday is the second day of the trial.