Geert Wilders (photo, frombbcimg.co.uk) has been found not guilty of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims after describing Islam as a “facist ideology” and comparing the Quran to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
On Thursday Amsterdam judge Marcel von Oosten agreed that the Freedom Party’s (PVV) leader words were directed at Islam and not at Muslim believers.
He ruled that although the far-right politician statements were “rude and condescending”, they were “acceptable within the context of public debate”.
After being on trial since last October for inciting hatred against Muslims in speeches, in written articles Dutch newspapers, on Internet forums and in his short film Fitna, Geert Wilders was acquitted on all five charges pressed against him.
Mr Wilders has said he has a “problem with Islamic tradition, culture, [and] ideology; not with Muslim people”.
The judge said that these remarks do not constitute a criminal offence in the Netherlands because they are challenging Islam as an ideology. He added that “[…] although gross and degenerating, it did not give rise to hatred.”
Applause from Mr Wilders’ supporters greeted the verdict and the 47-year-old politician smiled when he left the courtroom.
‘Freedom of expression’
He said he was “incredibly happy” with the verdict and added : “It’s not only an acquittal for me, but a victory for freedom of expression in the Netherlands.”
“Now the good news is that it’s also legal to be critical about Islam, to speak publicly in a critical way about Islam and this is something that we need because the Islamisation of our societies is a major problem and a threat to our freedom and I’m allowed to say so.”
The case was started by members of minority groups who told the trial that Mr Wilders’ comments had led to an increase of discrimination and violence against Muslims.
Plaintiffs had been seeking a symbolic one-euro fine.
Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf quoted their lawyer, Ties Prakken, as saying that they were “deeply disappointed” and felt that the right of minorities to be protected against hate speech had been violated.
Before the verdict, the plaintiffs said they would think about making their case before a European court or the UN.
Geert Wilders’ PVV won 15 per cent of the vote at the 2010 election, making it the country’s third largest party. And even though the PVV is not part of the coalition government, its support keeps the coalition in power.