Dutch MP hate speech trial 'far-reaching', court hears


Schiphol (Netherlands) (AFP)

The hate speech trial of Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders is a "political process" that could have a lasting impact on The Netherlands, a court heard on Thursday.

"If you ask me whether this case is a political process that may have far-reaching consequences, not only in The Netherlands, but the whole world, I would say so," Paul Cliteur, a Leiden-based law professor and philosopher told judges.

Cliteur was testifying for the defense as hearings resumed in the case against the far-right politician, who is accused of insulting a racial group and inciting racial hatred after comments he made about Moroccans living in The Netherlands in 2014.

Wilders, 53, has also dubbed the case a "political trial" and has snubbed the hearings, held at a high-security courtroom near Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, saying he was just exercising his right to free speech.

The Netherlands holds general elections in March and Wilders's far-right Freedom Party (PVV) is riding high in the polls, a close second to the ruling Liberal VVD party.

The verdict is expected to be handed down on December 9, and could impact the Dutch political landscape just months ahead of the vote.

Due to run until November 25, the trial focuses on a comment made at a local government election rally, when Wilders asked supporters 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."

"Wilders's viewpoints... are particularly radical in his criticism against Islam," Cliteur told the three-judge bench.

But his remarks at the March 2014 rally for the party faithful "had nothing to do with racism", Cliteur maintained.

Cliteur, who drew in his testimony on a broad range of writers and thinkers from 17th century freedom of speech champion John Milton to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, said Wilders's remarks were "rather aimed at halting immigration based on nationality".

"He may just as well have asked 'Do you want fewer Americans or fewer Malaysians', -- the effect is the same," Cliteur said.

Wilders's statements were met with outrage, including from the small but vocal Dutch Muslim community. An avalanche of 6,400 complaints followed.

If found guilty, he could face a two-year jail term or a fine of more than 20,000 euros ($22,100), but experts said such a severe punishment was unlikely.

Meanwhile, a break in the livestream feed of the trial by the Dutch public broadcaster NOS on Thursday drew howls of protest from the defence with an angry Wilders tweeting: "The one witness to testify in my defence will now not be seen by The Netherlands."