Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The far right Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders has been acquitted on charges of hate speech and discrimination in an Amsterdam court.Wilders had been on trial since October had faced five counts for his anti-Islamic remarks on websites, Internet forums and in Dutch newspapers between October 2006 and March 2008. He had also made a short film called Fitna, which is arabic for ‘Discord’. The film showed images of the 9/11 attacks in the US and other attacks on Western targets, interspersed with verses for the Koran. He had also compared the Muslim holy book with Mein Kampf.
The MP has called his acquittal a victory for freedom of speech after the court said that his statments fell within the bounds of legitimate political debate, reports The Guardian. Judge Marcel van Oosten said that his comments must be viewed in the context of immigration policy.
The judge said that although Wilders comments were “gross and degenerating” they did not give rise to hatred.
The 47-year-old Wilders, whose right-wing Party for Freedom lends its support to a right-leaning Dutch coalition government, told journalists afterwards he was “overjoyed and very happy” to have been acquitted.
“It is not only a victory for me but also a victory for freedom of speech,” he said outside the courtroom.
He added: “It means it is legal to criticise Islam.”
The acquittal comes after Wilders last month argued before judges that he was “defending freedom in the Netherlands” against Islam.
One of Europe’s most heavily-guarded politicians, the lawmaker told the court he was “obliged to speak” because The Netherlands is “under threat” from Islam.
Wilders previously said he was “defending the character, the identity, the culture” of The Netherlands.
His case has been helped by a reluctant prosecution, which last month again asked for his acquittal, saying that although his comments may have frequently caused anxiety and insult, they were not criminal as they criticised Islam as a religion and not Muslims as a people.
The prosecution’s unwillingness to take aim at Wilders dates as far back as 2008 when it refused to take up a case against him following complaints. On January 21, 2009, however, the Amsterdam appeals court forced the prosecution to mount a case against him.
Wilders’ trial also comes against a backdrop of plans by the central-right Dutch government to move away from a multicultural approach towards a tougher stance against those who ignore Dutch values and break the law.
The BBC reports that members of minority groups who took the case had been seeking a symbolic one-euro fine. They have said that they’ll consider taking their case to the European Court of Human Rights.
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