Far-right Dutch politician, Geert Wilders (photo, from aljazeera.net), has gone on trial in the Netherlands on charges of inciting hatred against Muslims.
On Monday, Wilders appeared at the Amsterdam court and appealed for freedom of expression, saying he was a suspect “because I expressed my opinion as a respresentative of the people”.
“Formally I’m on trial here today, but with me, the freedom of expression of many, many Dutch people is also being judged,” he said in reference to the 1.4 million supporters who helped vote his country in at third place in June.
Wilders has been accused of inciting hate against Muslims because of Fitna, his short internet film, which said the Quran was a fascist book and because of comments made in Dutch newspapers and on Internet forums.
He is facing five counts of giving religious offence to Muslims and inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims and people of non-Western immigrant origin, particularly Moroccans.
If found guilty, Wilders faces a maximum sentence of a year in jail, or a 7,600-euro ($10,471) fine.
Released in 2008, Fitna, urged Muslims to tear out “hate-filled” passages from the Quran and juxtaposes images of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US with quotations from the text.
Wilders is also accused by prosecutors of making comments comparing Islam to Nazism and calling for a ban on the Muslim holy book.
Shortly after Wilders’ opening remarks, the trial was adjourned for 24-hours, because he declined to answer any questions from the three judges.
Presiding judge, Jan Moors, said Wilders is known for making bold statements but avoiding discussions, and added that “it appears you’re doing so again”.
Wilders previously appealed to have the case dismissed, saying his remarks were not against Muslims but rather against Islam, and were protected by freedom of speech.
Two days before the trial’s opening, the Dutch government approved a coalition agreement with his far-right Freedom party.
On Saturday, the Christian Democrat (CDA) party voted to co-operate with the Freedom party, removing another hurdle to forming a conservative Dutch government.
In exchange for a ban on women wearing the veil, Wilders has agreed to support the minority coalition.
Since 2004, when his life was threatened by a Muslim suspect, Wilders has been under permanent police protection.
He describes himself as a libertarian and rejects comparisons with rightist European politicians such as the late Jorg Haider in Austria and Jean-Marie Le Pen in France.
Wilders began his political career in the centrist pro-business Liberal Party as a speech writer, town councilman and member of parliament. But he left in 2004 over its readiness to accept Turkey into the European Union.