Dutch court acquits Geert Wilders in hate speech case

Populist anti-immigration politician was charged for comments against Muslims in case testing freedom of speech in the Netherlands.

By REUTERS
June 23, 2011 10:48
1 minute read.
Dutch politician Geert Wilders

Dutch politician Geert Wilders 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters/Jerry Lampen)

 
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A Dutch court on Thursday acquitted populist politician Geert Wilders of charges of inciting hatred against Muslims, in a case that tested freedom of speech in the traditionally liberal country.

The court case has attracted attention, not just because of Geert Wilders' controversial comments about Islam -- which he compared to Nazism -- but also because of the increasing influence of his political party, which supports the minority Dutch government on economic and other issues.

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The Dutch court late last year approved a request from Wilders to have new judges for his trial on charges of inciting hatred against Muslims, forcing the court to start the case again.

Wilders' lawyer had asked the court to replace the current judges, raising concerns about bias after they did not immediately approve a request to hear an expert witness.

"This gives me a new chance of a new fair trial. I am confident that I can only be acquitted because I have broken no law, but spoken the truth," Wilders told Reuters at the time, arguing that his comments were covered by freedom of speech.

Unusually, the prosecution team have also asked for an acquittal, arguing that politicians have the right to comment on problem issues and that Wilders was not trying to foment violence or division. However, the judges have the power to convict regardless of the prosecution's stance.

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