SCHIPHOL (NETHERLANDS) (AFP) – Lawyers for Dutch far-right MP Geert Wilders on Friday urged judges to drop an upcoming discrimination and hate speech case against the controversial politician, slamming it as a “political trial.”
Wilders was appearing again before a top security court ahead of the start of his trial next month on charges of inciting racial hatred due to statements he made about Moroccans living in the Netherlands.
“Public prosecutors are asking the judges to hand down a political verdict,” lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops told a three-judge bench at the preliminary hearing.
“That’s unacceptable and irresponsible… and will have far-reaching consequences for democracy in the Netherlands,” he argued at the hearing, held in a fortress-like courthouse close to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
Knoops drew on a US legal principle called the “political question doctrine” to underline his case, and argued that in his comments, Wilders had merely “put forward the political programme of his party.”
The case focuses on comments made by the populist politician at a March 2014 local election rally.
Wilders 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 country, and Wilders even faced criticism from within his Freedom Party (PVV).
At least 56 people and five organisations have registered as victims of the comments and at least 34 witnesses have come forward ahead of a possible trial, judges said.
Knoops said his client had a fundamental right to freedom of speech, particularly as a politician, adding his client “did not make the statement based on a racial prejudice.”
– Tight security –
Security was tight on Friday, but Wilders, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and blue tie seemed relaxed and smiled at onlookers.
Wilders is described as the “most heavily-guarded man” in the Netherlands. And since the 2004 assassination of anti-Islam director Theo van Gogh, he has had around-the-clock protection.
The outspoken politician has drawn heavy flack from fellow MPs after saying he would close all mosques and confiscate Korans — which he famously compares to Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” — should he take power in the Netherlands.
His party rode high in opinion polls as the migrant crisis polarised the country.
But in recent months, it has dropped back again ahead of general elections in March, in which observers say the outcome of his eventual trial could play an important role.
If found guilty, Wilders could face up to two years in jail or a fine of more than 20,000 euros ($22,000).
Wilders was acquitted during a first hate trial in 2011 which concluded his remarks targeted a religion and not a specific group of people.