Dutch politician on trial for hate speech
Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders appealed for freedom of expression Monday 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.
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's 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's 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 realized.
Wilders's 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.
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 verses from the Qur'an with images of terrorism by Islamic radicals.
A verdict is expected Nov. 4, though if the current panel of judges is replaced, the trial will be delayed for months.