Trial of Geert Wilders

Trial of Geert Wilders

A trial of Dutch politician Geert Wilders took place in the Netherlands in 2010–2011. Wilders was accused of criminally insulting religious and ethnic groups and inciting hatred and discrimination. He was found not guilty in June 2011.[1]

Wilders is the leader of the Party for Freedom and has earned controversy in the Netherlands and abroad for his criticisms of Islam and what he describes as the Islamization of the Netherlands. He faced five counts of criminal offenses. The first was criminally insulting Muslims because of their religion. The remaining four charges were inciting hatred and discrimination of Muslims because of their religion and inciting hatred and discrimination against non-Western immigrants and/or Moroccans based on their race or ethnicity. The charges were based on articles from the period 2006-2008 that Wilders had written online and in newspapers, as well as his film Fitna. These statements included a call for a ban on the Quran,[2][3] warnings against an "Islamic invasion"[4] and a "tsunami of Islamization".[5] He also called Islam a fascist religion, described Dutch-Moroccan youths as violent and compared the Quran with Hitler's Mein Kampf.[6] He has also referred to Mohammed as "the devil".[7][8]

The judges in the first trial were removed after a perceived bias against Wilders,[9] and a retrial started in February 2011. The Dutch Public Prosecution Service, after initially refusing to prosecute Wilders because it did not consider his statements illegal, was ordered by a court of appeal to prosecute him nonetheless. During the process, they argued that Wilders should be acquitted on all counts.

On 23 June 2011, Wilders was acquitted of all charges, with Judge Marcel van Oosten noting that his statements, although "gross and denigrating," had not given rise to hatred against Muslims, and as such were "acceptable within the context of public debate."[10] The judge however noted, that the statements were on the edge of legal acceptability.[11]

In 2008, Wilders was also charged by a prosecutor in Jordan with blasphemy and contempt for Muslims for producing Fitna.[12][off-topic?]

Contents

Antecedents

According to Article 71 of the Dutch Constitution, as an MP, Wilders has immunity in the Dutch parliament with regards to communication, either in speech or in writing.[13] However, this protection does not extend to anti-Islam comments he has made in the media. This became clear in 2007–2010, when protests against alleged insults and incitement to hatred resulted in the criminal prosecution of Wilders by the district attorney in Amsterdam. On 3 February 2010, the Amsterdam court ruled itself to be competent on the charges against Wilders.

His comments and some of the content of Wilders' film Fitna have been protested by agencies such as the Dutch anti-discrimination group Nederland Bekent Kleur ("The Netherlands Shows Its Colors").[14] On 15 August 2007, a representative of the public prosecution service in Amsterdam declared that dozens of reports against Wilders had been filed and that they were being considered.[15]

Attempts to prosecute Wilders under Dutch anti-hate speech laws in June 2008 were dropped, with the public prosecution stating that Wilders' comments contributed to the debate on Islam in Dutch society and had been made outside parliament.[16] The office released a statement reading: "That comments are hurtful and offensive for a large number of Muslims does not mean that they are punishable. Freedom of expression fulfils an essential role in public debate in a democratic society. That means that offensive comments can be made in a political debate."[14][17][18]

Prosecution

Decision to try

The alleged victims (Nederlands bekent kleur, organisations of Turkish, Moroccan and Antillean people in the Netherlands, and an organisation of mosques) appealed against the prosecution's decision to not pursue the case and on 21 January 2009, a three-judge court of appeal ordered the public prosecutor to try Wilders.[18][19] Their statement said that "[i]n a democratic system, hate speech is considered so serious that it is in the general interest to ... draw a clear line" and that "the court also considers appropriate criminal prosecution for insulting Muslim worshippers because of comparisons between Islam and Nazism made by Wilders".[16][17] If convicted, he could have been sentenced for up to 16 months of jail time or a fine of €9866.67.[20] His lawyer Bram Moszkowicz tried to have this appeal overturned at the Supreme Court of the Netherlands,[21] but the Supreme Court's Procurator General decided he would not take on the case.[22]

On 4 December 2009, Wilders was ordered to appear before the court on 20 January 2010, to defend himself to the charges of group insult of Muslims, fomenting hate and discrimination against Muslims because of their religion, and fomenting hate and discrimination against non-western foreigners and/or Moroccans because of their race.[23]

On 11 January 2010, the Dutch public prosecution service brought additional charges against him. He was charged with hatred against Moroccans and non-Western immigrants.[24][25][26]

On 13 January 2010, the Amsterdam court rejected, after a closed pretrial hearing, submissions by Wilders that one of the charges against him should be dropped or reduced. He argued that he had only criticized Islam and not its adherents, and that the charge of insulting Muslims as a group should not stand. His lawyer Moszkowicz petitioned judges to drop the charge of insulting Muslims as a group, which he said would have little chance of winning a conviction. He cited a 2009 Dutch Supreme Court ruling that found insulting a religion is not the same as insulting followers of that religion, and not punishable under the current hate-speech laws. The judge said that the indictment only put into practice an earlier court ruling that he should stand trial and that the defense had not put forward any new evidence to overturn that ruling.[27][28][29]

Charges

Wilders was charged with the following five counts:[30]

  1. Group insult
  2. Inciting hatred against Muslims because of their religion
  3. Inciting discrimination against Muslims because of their religion
  4. Inciting hatred against non-western immigrants and Moroccans because of their race
  5. Inciting discrimination against non-western immigrants and Moroccans because of their race

Charge 1 is based on article 137c of the Dutch criminal code and charges 2–5 on article 137d.

First trial

The court sessions started on 20 January 2010. Wilders was accused of discrimination on the basis of religion and spreading hate. On the eve of his trial Wilders told journalists he expected to be acquitted and said "I have done nothing wrong". He said he should be able to speak the truth about Islam, even if that is painful for some people. After receiving the summons he commented that he considered the prosecution as "a political trial".[31][32] He announced that during the hearing he wanted to ask various experts to act as witnesses.[18][33][34][35][36][37][38] At the first day of the trials, Wilders held a speech recalling Thomas Jefferson, among others.[39]

When the trial resumed on 3 February, the judges decided who would be called as witnesses. Wilders' witness list had consisted of a number of various experts on both the law and Islam and included university professors, radical imams and also Mohammed Bouyeri, the man who murdered film maker Theo van Gogh.[40][41][42]

The witnesses that Wilders wanted called include: Henny Sackers, Dutch professor of criminal law from the Radboud University Nijmegen and scholar on blasphemy, religious discrimination and hate crime; Tom Zwart, Dutch professor of human rights law, Utrecht University; Theo de Roos, Dutch professor of criminal law, Tilburg University; Afshin Ellian, Dutch-Iranian professor, Leiden University; Andras Sajo, Hungarian judge, European Court for Human Rights; Hans Jansen, Dutch arabist and author of a book titled "Islam for Pigs, Donkeys, Monkeys and Other Beasts"; Simon Admiraal, Dutch author; Wafa Sultan, author of A god who hates;[43] Raphael Israeli, Israeli professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Sam Solomon, author of The mosque exposed; B. French, director of the Centre for the Study of Political Islam; Andrew Bostom, author of The Legacy of Jihad; Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch; F. Jneid, imam from The Hague; Y. Al-Qaradawi, University of Qatar; Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati from Iran; Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi from Iran; and Mohammed Bouyeri, convicted for murder.[44]

Of these 18 witnesses, 15 were rejected by the court. It ruled that Bouyeri and other Muslim extremists would not be allowed to testify in the case.[45] The court accepted only the three Islam experts whom Wilders had called,[46] rejecting all the lawyers and Islamic extremists. Wilders wanted to put Islamic extremists in the witness box, to illustrate what he sees as the danger of Islam, and to justify his criticism of the religion.[citation needed] The court also rejected the plea by Wilders' lawyer that the case should be transferred to the Supreme Court, because Wilders is an MP. The court overruled this objection against its jurisdiction: "Parliamentary immunity does not extend to what a public representative says or writes outside of parliamentary gatherings", said Jan Moors, one of the judges at the Amsterdam court.[47][48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55] Wilders' comment was that he was being denied a fair trial.[56]

During the trial it became clear that the prosecutors were arguing for Wilders to be acquitted on all five counts.[57]

On 22 October 2010, when the trial was nearing its conclusion, Wilders' attorney Moszkowicz asked for the judges to be substituted because of a perceived bias against his client. Moszkowicz had asked for substitution before, but was denied the first time. The second time, the substitution was requested because Tom Schalken, one of the judges in the court of appeal case that ordered (on 21 January 2009) the prosecution of Wilders, had allegedly tried to convince a witness in the main trial, Hans Jansen, that the trial was justified. Moszkowicz wanted to hear this witness immediately regarding the alleged conflict of interest, but the court decided it would not hear the witness. The substitution chamber decided that this decision had an appearance of bias and awarded the substitution, thereby ordering a retrial.[58]

In the meantime, the alleged victims complained with the court of appeal that the prosecutors had not fulfilled the court of appeal's order that Wilders had to be prosecuted by arguing for acquittal, and that the two prosecutors should be replaced in the retrial. On 4 February 2011, the court of appeal decided against this complaint.[59]

Second trial

On 7 February 2011, the retrial against Geert Wilders started. In the period between the two trials, the police had investigated the claims that the appeal judge (Tom Schalken) had tried to influence witness Hans Jansen. The new trial began with hearing the witnesses Schalken, Jansen and Bertus Hendriks; the latter had hosted the dinner party at which Schalken talked to Jansen. Moszkowicz argued that the trial against Geert Wilders could not continue because the witness had been influenced.[60] During the hearing of witness Hendriks, Moszkowicz claimed that Hendriks had committed perjury; when the judges did not agree with him, Moszkowicz tried to have them substituted as well, but the request failed.[61]

On 23 May 2011, the judges decided that, although Schalken should not have talked to Jansen, the witness had not been influenced, and the case could continue.[62] As in the first trial, the public prosecution argued that Wilders should be acquitted on all counts. On 1 June, the hearings concluded with Geert Wilders asking the judges to find him not guilty.

On 23 June 2011, Wilders was acquitted[63] by the court of all charges, because his statements were, as presiding judge Marcel van Oosten put it, "acceptable within the context of public debate." Because both the public prosecutor and the defense requested complete acquittal, the verdict will most likely not be appealed,[1][11] although some thought the plaintiffs might try to take the case before the European Court of Human Rights.[10]

Responses

The prosecution created, in the words of Haaretz, "a high-profile affair".[64] Wilders labeled the judgement an "attack on the freedom of expression".[16] The prosecution was condemned by editorials in the Wall Street Journal,[65] Investors Business Daily,[66] The Washington Times,[67] The American Spectator,[68] Forbes,[20] Dallas Morning News[69] City Journal,[70] Montreal Gazette,[71] The Jerusalem Post,[72] Canada.com,[73] and The Australian.[74] New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized it in front of the Mayor of Amsterdam and the Dutch Ambassador to the United States.[73] The People's Party for Freedom and Democracy called the case "alarming".

The Dutch center-left Labour party welcomed the court's 2009 ruling.[75] The Socialist Party did as well.[76] The Muslims and Government Consultative Body, said that "We are positive that this will contribute to a more respectful tone to the public debate."[75] Abdelmajid Khairoun, Dutch Muslim Council chairman, expressed support, stating that "Muslim youngsters who make anti-Semitic remarks are prosecuted but Wilders' anti-Islamic remarks go unpunished".[76]

The American Middle East Forum established a Legal Defence Fund for Wilders's defence.[77][78] The New York Times ran a supportive op-ed arguing that "for a man who calls for a ban on the Koran to act as the champion of free speech is a bit rich".[79]

A February 2009 survey by Angus Reid Global Monitor found that public opinion was deeply split on the prosecution, with 50% supporting Wilders and 43% opposed.[17] However, public support for the Party for Freedom vastly increased since Wilders' legal troubles began, with the Party for Freedom virtually tied with the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy to be the third most popular party.[80] According to Radio Netherlands, "Dutch politicians themselves seem to be keeping quiet on the issue; they are probably worried that media attention will only serve to make the controversial politician more popular."[65]

According to Robert Spencer, creator of Jihad Watch, and author of articles and books relating to Islam and Islamic terrorism, in National Review Online "The Geert Wilders trial ought to be an international media event; seldom has any court case anywhere had such enormous implications for the future of the free world ".[81]

Free speech

According to Wilders himself, it was not he who was on trial, but his "freedom of speech" and that at stake were traditional European freedoms. In February 2010, in an interview with Israel National Radio, Wilders said he was "fighting for one thing: the preservation of our culture, which is based on Christianity, Judaism and humanism – and not on Islam... While Islamization of our society grows, the political elite looks in the other direction and ignores the real problem, namely, the impending loss of our freedom. I am fighting not against Moslems, but against the influx of a totalitarian ideology called Islam."[82][83]

Geert Wilders cited a similar case of Islam related free-speech restrictions with Gregorius Nekschot on his website.[84]

After being cleared of all charges, Wilders commented that the victory was not only an acquittal for himself, but a victory for freedom of expression in the Netherlands.[10] Commentators believed that the plaintiffs may attempt to bring their case before the European Court of Human Rights.[10] Gerard Spong, a lawyer instrumental in getting the case heard, expressed his disappointment with the verdict, seeing the judge's ruling based on "public context" as vague. Theo de Roos, professor of law at the Tilburg University, saw the case as a precedent for ethnic incitement in Dutch law – only actual threats could be any longer seen as being prohibited.[11]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b Hinke, Bart (23 June 2011). "Wilders op alle punten vrijgesproken" (in Dutch). NRC.nl. http://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2011/06/23/wilders-vrijgesproken-van-groepsbelediging/. Retrieved 23 June 2011. 
  2. ^ "Wilders: verbied de Koran, ook in moskee" (in Dutch). De Volkskrant. 8 August 2007. http://www.volkskrant.nl/binnenland/article451302.ece/Wilders_verbied_de_Koran%2C_ook_in_moskee. Retrieved 8 August 2007. 
  3. ^ Wilders, Geert (8 August 2007). "Genoeg is genoeg: verbied de Koran" (in Dutch). De Volkskrant. http://www.volkskrant.nl/binnenland/article451338.ece/Genoeg_is_genoeg_verbied_de_Koran. Retrieved 24 March 2008. 
  4. ^ Mohammed deel II: de islamitische invasie on pvv.nl retrieved 24 June 2011 20:02
  5. ^ Wilders bang voor 'tsunami van islamisering' in De Volkskrant 6 October 2006
  6. ^ den Boer, Nicolien (8 January 2007). "'Qur'an should be banned' – Wilders strikes again". Radio Netherlands. http://www.radionetherlands.nl/currentaffairs/ned070808mc. Retrieved 24 March 2008. 
  7. ^ Cunningham, Benjamin. "Islam opponent to visit Prague". The Prague Post. Czech Republic. doi:25 November 2009. http://www.praguepost.com/news/2905-islam-opponent-to-visit-prague.html. Retrieved 4 June 2011. 
  8. ^ "De profeet Mohammed is een enge duivel". Het Nieuwsblad. doi:9 February 2008. http://www.nieuwsblad.be/Article/Detail.aspx?ArticleID=B11NPCFS. Retrieved 4 June 2011. 
  9. ^ "Judges told to step down in Wilders trial". BBC. 22 October 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11609589. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  10. ^ a b c d "Geert Wilders cleared of hate charges by Dutch court". BBC News. 23 June 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13883331. Retrieved 23 June 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c "Wilders found not guilty of inciting hatred, but is 'on the edge'". DutchNews.nl. 23 June 2011. http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2011/06/wilders_found_not_guilty_of_in.php. Retrieved 23 June 2011. 
  12. ^ "Dutch politician charged in Jordan over anti-Koran film". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/01/world/africa/01iht-jordan.5.14145081.html. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  13. ^ Constitution of the Kingdom of The Netherlands Article 71 (English translation; "States General" = Dutch parliament): "Article 71 Members of the States General, Ministers, State Secretaries and other persons taking part in deliberations may not be prosecuted or otherwise held liable in law for anything they say during the sittings of the States General or of its committees or for anything they submit to them in writing."
  14. ^ a b "Holland declines to prosecute anti-Islam politician". International Herald Tribune. Reuters. 30 June 2008. http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/30/europe/dutch.php. Retrieved 14 March 2009. 
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  27. ^ "Dutch Lawmaker Fails to Avoid Hate Speech Charges"
  28. ^ "Judge rejects Geert Wilders' submission". Rnw.nl. 14 January 2010. http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/judge-rejects-geert-wilders-submission. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
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  30. ^ "Requisitoir zaak-Wilders". Om.nl. http://www.om.nl/actueel-0/strafzaken/strafzaak_tegen/@154271/requisitoir-zaak/. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  31. ^ http://www.rights.no/filer2/wilders_summons.pdf
  32. ^ Murray, Douglas (28 January 2010). "Geert Wilders: on trial for telling the truth". London: Blogs.telegraph.co.uk. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/douglasmurray/100024056/geert-wilders-on-trial-for-telling-the-truth/. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  33. ^ Charter, David (20 January 2010). "Far-right MP Geert Wilders on trial for discrimination against Muslims". The Times (London). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article6994396.ece. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  34. ^ "Wilders trial begins in Amsterdam". Expatica.com. http://www.expatica.com/nl/news/dutch-rss-news/wilders-trial-begins-in-amsterdam_20551.html. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  35. ^ "Dutch Politician on Trial for Anti-Muslim Comments – The trial in the Netherlands is being closely watched around the world, because it pits the right to free speech against religious freedom and freedom against persecution". .voanews.com. 20 January 2010. http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/europe/Dutch-Politician-on-Trial-for-Anti-Muslim-Comments-82187757.html. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  36. ^ Waterfield, Bruno (20 January 2010). "Geert Wilders in Dutch court over anti-Islam comments". The Daily Telegraph (UK). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/netherlands/7037762/Geert-Wilders-in-Dutch-court-over-anti-Islam-comments.html. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  37. ^ "Filmmaker Geert Wilders faces hatred charges". CNN. 20 January 2010. http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/01/20/netherlands.geert.wilders/. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  38. ^ "Dutch MP on trial for 'hate speech'". English.aljazeera.net. http://english.aljazeera.net/news/europe/2010/01/201012094532873241.html. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  39. ^ "Video: Geert Wilders' brilliant speech". Europenews.dk. http://europenews.dk/en/node/29245. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  40. ^ Goodenough, Patrick (3 February 2010). "Dutch Critic of Islam Wants Extremist Killer to Testify at His Trial". Cnsnews.com. http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/60884. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  41. ^ (Dutch)"Beslissingen regiezitting Wilders"[dead link]
  42. ^ (Dutch)"LJN: BL1868, Rechtbank Amsterdam , 13/425046-09"
  43. ^ [Wafa Sultan A God Who Hates: The Courageous Woman Who Inflamed the Muslim World Speaks Out Against the Evils of Radical Islam (2009)]
  44. ^ (Dutch)"De getuigen"
  45. ^ "Van Gogh's killer rejected as Wilders witness". Nrc.nl. 4 February 2010. http://www.nrc.nl/international/article2475574.ece/Van_Goghs_killer_rejected_as_Wilders_witness. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  46. ^ "De drie getuigen van Wilders"[dead link]
  47. ^ "Wilders' trial to resume in February". Dutchnews.nl. 21 January 2010. http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2010/01/wilders_trial_to_resume_in_feb.php. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  48. ^ SJVP (20 January 2010). "Populist MP Wilders addresses Amsterdam court". Rnw.nl. http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/populist-mp-wilders-addresses-amsterdam-court. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  49. ^ "Court rejects Wilders’ extremist witnesses". Rnw.nl. 3 February 2010. http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/court-rejects-wilders%E2%80%99-extremist-witnesses. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  50. ^ "Proces tegen Wilders aangehouden". Nrc.nl. 2 September 2008. http://www.nrc.nl/binnenland/proceswilders/article2474842.ece/Proces_tegen_Wilders_aangehouden. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
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  58. ^ Geert Wilders hate speech trial collapses in Netherlands, by Ian Traynor, Europe editor, guardian.co.uk, 22 October 2010
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  63. ^ Judgement of 23 June 2001 (English translation)
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