Dutch court acquits politician in hate speech case

[JURIST] Dutch politician Geert Wilders [personal website; JURIST news archive] was acquitted of all charges [judgment text, in Dutch] on Thursday, the court finding his anti-Islam statements were not hate speech or discriminatory. Wilders has made several "anti-Islam" comments as a political official, including: several comments similar to "I don't hate Muslims, I hate Islam"; comparing the Koran to Mein Campf and calling for it to be banned; proposing a tax on wearing a hijab, or burqa; proposing a halt to Muslim immigration to the Netherlands; and creating the film Fitna [IMDB backgrounder], where terrorist attack images are juxtaposed with quotations from the Koran. The court's judgment stated that in the larger context of the immigration debate, statements against Islam were permissible, especially since his statements were not made against individuals or even groups of people, but the religion itself.

[S]uspect, as a politician, made the remarks that through his eyes, there are evil aspects of Islam and the Koran. When the alleged statements ... are viewed, both the wording and in conjunction with other statements, most of these statements that can only be seen as on Islam and the Koran. The suspect in these statements directed them against the faith and not against people (Muslims) and it can not be proven legally and convincingly that he incites hatred with these statements and/or discrimination against Muslims, as he was charged with. Regarding several statements, the court considers that these statements also include criticism of individuals, especially politicians, who in the opinion of the accused, do not recognize evil aspects of Islam. These (parts of) the statements can not therefore also be brought under incitement to hatred or discrimination against people because of their religion.

The original parties are planning to sue the Netherlands in an international court [NRC report] in reaction to the verdict. Reactions from Dutch figures has been mixed [NRC report], with equal amounts praising the decision as a victory for free speech and decrying the legitimization of hate speech. The Wilders case was analyzed by Gerolf Hagens [Teamleider, Kaveity and Kaveity] in Geert Wilders trial explores new frontiers of Dutch politics, society and jurisprudence [JURIST op-ed].

In May, the court rejected claims by Wilders [JURIST report] that the hate speech charges [prosecution materials, in Dutch] against him should be dropped over claims of bias. Wilders claimed that one of the judges had tried to convince [AFP report] the defense's expert witness to support the claims at a 2010 dinner party. While the court allowed prosecution to continue for any statements Wilders made likening Islam to Nazism, it dropped a complaint against him for referring to the Koran itself as "fascist," holding that prosecutors were precluded from including statements comparing Islam to fascism alone. In March, an Amsterdam court rejected Wilders' claims of improper venue, ruling that the Amsterdam court has the authority to judge the case, given that the alleged statements were committed within its jurisdiction. In February, the court granted Wilders the right to set out the objections [BBC report] he had made during the initial trial, which was postponed following the dismissal of the original panel of judges [JURIST report] amidst allegations of bias. Prior to their dismissal, the original panel members heard the prosecution's case, which culminated in a request that Wilders be acquitted on all charges [JURIST report]. The prosecutors based their request on determinations that the politician's statements were directed at Islam and not Muslims themselves and additionally, that the evidence failed to establish that he intended to incite violence. The presentment of the prosecution's case followed an order from a panel of Dutch judges to resume the trial after initially rejecting claims of judicial bias [JURIST report]. The trial had previously been suspended [JURIST report] after a lawyer representing Wilders accused one of the judges of making a statement which cast him in an unfavorable light to the jury.

 

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