Dutch right wing politician Geert Wilders on trial for discrimination

Dutch far right leader Geert Wilders, previously acquitted for making discriminative statements against Islam, in court once more for sparking hatred against Dutch Moroccan minority

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Dutch far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders sits in a courtroom of the courthouse in Schiphol, the Netherlands on March 18, 2016.

Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician leading calls for a European Union ban on Muslim immigration, was back in court on Friday to answer charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against the Netherlands' Moroccan minority.

Prosecutors said the case, which follows the acquittal in December of Wilders' political ally Marine le Pen in France on similar charges, pits the right to freedom of speech against the right to freedom from discrimination.

"Freedom of expression is not absolute, it is paired with obligations and responsibilities," said lead prosecutor Wouter Bos, "the responsibility not to set groups of people against each other."

"Racism and hatred of foreigners constitute a direct violation of the foundations of freedom, democracy and the rule of law."

Wilders denies wrongdoing, saying the trial is politically motivated and that his comments are protected by his right to free speech.

The case comes as Wilders and other populist politicians - including Donald Trump in the United States and Marine le Pen in France - have won support by calling for a ban on Muslim immigration.

State prosecutors say Wilders asked a crowd of supporters in March 2014 whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans, in the Netherlands triggering the chant: "Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!" to which a smiling Wilders responded: "We'll take care of that."

The lawmaker, whose decade-old Freedom Party holds a commanding lead in Dutch popular opinion polls but has never been in power, denies any wrongdoing.

"Nobody will silence me. Not about Moroccans either," he tweeted last week. "No terrorist threats ... no judge. Nobody."

Dutch far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders sits in a courtroom of the courthouse in Schiphol, the Netherlands on March 18, 2016. (Reuters)

The case against Wilders in 2011 centred on his call for a "towel-head" tax and equating the Qur'an with Hitler's "Mein Kampf". He said "Muslim criminals" should be stripped of their Dutch nationality and deported.

Although Wilders' remarks are offensive to many, he says he has no grudge against immigrants who accept Dutch laws and customs and he has never advocated violence.

Judges concluded then that Wilders' remarks might have been offensive, but acquitted him because the target was a religion, not a race.

"That is the difference now," prosecution spokeswoman, Ilse de Heer, said.

Friday's prosecution is different because his remarks "targeted a specific race, which is considered a crime".

Wilders faces one charge of discrimination and a second for inciting hatred of Moroccans, who make up about 2 percent of the population of roughly 17 million.

In addition to the "fewer" comment, Wilders referred to Moroccans as "scum" in a television broadcast. He may go to jail for as long as a year and could be fined a maximum of 7,400 euros ($8,400).

The hearing at a high-security courtroom next to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is frequently used for cases involving organised crime.

In France, Le Pen in December was acquitted of charges of inciting hatred against French Muslims for comparing Muslims praying in the street to the German occupation of France during World War Two. 

TRTWorld, Reuters