Thursday, October 7, 2010

Free Speech on Trial in the Netherlands Geert Wilders vs. Judges Who Say They Already "Know Enough"

by Soeren Kern

The hate speech trial of Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders began in Amsterdam on October 4. Prosecutors say Wilders incited hatred against Muslims when he made remarks describing Islam as fascist and compared the Koran to Adolf Hitler's book Mein Kampf. Wilders argues that he has a right to freedom of speech and that his remarks were within the bounds of the law. If convicted of any of the five charges against him, Wilders faces a hefty fine and/or up to one year in prison. He could also be barred from seeking re-election for public office.

The Wilders trial, which is expected to last about a month, represents a landmark case that likely will establish the limits of free speech in a country where the politically correct elite routinely seek to silence public discussion about the escalating problem of Muslim immigration.

At the start of his trial, Wilders, whose popularity and influence in the Netherlands are at an all time high, said he speaks for more than one million Dutch voters, and he vowed not retract a word. "I am on trial, but on trial with me is the freedom of expression of many Dutch citizens," he told the Amsterdam district court. "I can assure you, I will continue proclaiming it.

"I have said what I have said and I will not take one word back," Wilders continued, "but that does not mean I have said everything attributed to me." Wilders, who has a round-the-clock police guard because of death threats, then invoked his right to remain silent and refused to answer judges' questions.

Presiding Judge Jan Moors responded by telling Wilders that the court "reads newspapers and watches television" and that Wilders has been blamed by others for being "good in taking a stand and then avoiding a discussion." By choosing not to testify, he said, "it seems you are doing that today as well."

Wilders objected, saying the remark showed that Moors had a negative view of him as the kind of person who picks a fight and then runs away. Wilders then challenged the impartiality of the three-judge panel because of what Moors said. "I thought I had a right to a fair trial, including the right to remain silent," Wilders said. "It is scandalous that the judge passes comment on that. A fair trial is not possible with judges like that."

The trial was temporarily suspended after Wilders' lawyer, Bram Moszkowicz, asked the court to replace the judges hearing the case because they may be biased against Wilders. A separate review panel was then convened to consider the request for the removal of the judges.

Judge Frans Bauduin, who presided over the review panel, rejected Wilders' argument that the judges are prejudiced. Bauduin said Moors' remark was "unfortunately formulated," he said, but that it was standard procedure for a court to question suspects about why they choose to remain silent. "The words used by the presiding judge in that last sentence were chosen unfortunately. They have given the requestor a wrong impression…However, there are no weighty indications that the judges have given the impression of being prejudiced." Bauduin then ordered the trial to continue with the current judges.

Wilders is being prosecuted after complaints following an August 2007 essay titled "Enough is Enough: Outlaw the Koran, published by the Dutch newspaper De Volksrant, in which Wilders called the Koran "fascist" and compared it to the book Mein Kampf. Wilders also wrote: "I've had enough of Islam in the Netherlands; let not one more Muslim immigrate;" adding "I've had enough of the Koran in the Netherlands: Forbid that fascist book." A year later, he released the documentary film "Fitna," in which he calls on Muslims to rip out "hate-preaching" verses from the Koran.

In a February 2008 interview with Britain's leftwing Guardian newspaper, Wilders said: "Islam is something we cannot afford any more in the Netherlands. I want the fascist Koran banned. We need to stop the Islamization of the Netherlands. That means no more mosques, no more Islamic schools, no more imams." He added that Islam was "the ideology of a retarded culture," and said that "not all Muslims are terrorists, but almost all terrorists are Muslims."

In February 2009, the British government led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown banned Wilders from entering Britain on grounds of Islamophobia. That ban was lifted in October 2009 after a British court ruled that the entry ban was illegal.

The attempt to bring Wilders to trial was initially dismissed after the Public Prosecutor (OM) originally said that Wilders was protected by the right to free speech. But an appeals court overruled him and ordered that Wilders be charged. The case against Wilders was initiated by the extreme left anti-racism group called Netherlands Admits Color.

Some of the most prominent legal scholars in the Netherlands have spoken out against the case, arguing that "this prosecution does not befit a civilized country." Adding to speculation that the proceedings against Wilders are pre-cooked, the Amsterdam court is refusing to allow Wilders to call four legal scholars as witnesses because the judges say they have already "learned enough" about the case from other sources.

The trial comes at a moment when Wilders is close to seeing many of his policy goals realized. On September 30, Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV) agreed to support a new minority government made up of the Liberals (VVD) and the Christian Democrats (CDA). Following inconclusive elections in June, the new government is expected to take office in October with a tiny majority (76 seats in the 150-seat parliament). It will be led by Mark Rutte, the VVD leader, as prime minister.

In return for the support of Wilders' 24 seats in parliament, his political allies have promised to ban the burqa, turn away more asylum-seekers and cut immigration from non-Western countries in half. Under the pact, radical religious leaders could be barred from entering the country; immigrants convicted of crimes would be expelled more rapidly, and those who failed an integration exam would lose their residence permits.

The coalition government also plans to pursue more Euroskeptic policies, and invest in Dutch relations with Israel. "This is an historic event for the Netherlands," Wilders said after reaching the coalition agreement. "We will be able to rebuild our country, preserve our national identity and offer our children a better future. We want to stop the Islamization of the Netherlands."

Wilders, who is viewed by many people as a martyr for liberty and free speech, is also resonating with voters in other European countries. Speaking to the members of a new German political movement called "Die Freiheit" (The Freedom) in Berlin on October 2, Wilders argued that Islam is the new communism, and he paraphrased Karl Marx to declare that Islam is now the specter haunting Europe.

During his Berlin speech, which was aimed at establishing a trans-national European movement against Muslim immigration, Wilders said: "I am standing trial … because of my opinions on Islam … and because the Dutch establishment – most of them non-Muslims – wants to silence me. I have been dragged to court because in my country freedom can no longer be fully enjoyed … In Europe, the national state, and increasingly the EU, prescribes how citizens – including democratically elected politicians such as myself – should think and what we are allowed to say."

Wilders also argued that Islam is bent on dominating the West, deliberately flooding Europe with migrants. "We must realize that Islam expands in two ways. Historically, Islam expanded either by military conquest or by using the weapon of hijra, immigration. Muhammad conquered Medina through immigration. Hijra is also what we are experiencing today. The Islamization of Europe continues all the time. But the West has no strategy for dealing with the Islamic ideology: Our elites say that we must adapt to them, rather than the other way around."

"We should not accept the unacceptable as inevitable without trying to turn the tide." Wilders concluded. "It is our duty as politicians to preserve our nations for our children."

Soeren Kern

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