The Right to Criticize Islam: Wilders Cleared of Incitement Charges
A Dutch court on Thursday acquitted controversial right-wing populist politician Geert Wilders on all charges relating to anti-Islamic statements he made in his films and on the Internet. The court said Wilders' comments had been part of a legitimate public debate.
After nearly six months, a trial against Dutch firebrand Geert Wilders ended Thursday in Amsterdam. A court acquitted the right-wing populist politician on charges of incitement, racial hatred and discrimination against Muslims.
In his verdict, leading judge Marcel van Oosten said that, while Wilders' statements were indeed offensive to Muslims, they were also part of the legitimate political debate. Wilders' claim that Islam is a violent religion and his demands for an immigration ban for Muslims had to be viewed in the context of the larger societal debate about immigration policies, the judge argued. He said the statements could not be directly blamed for increasing levels of discrimination against Dutch Muslims.
Wilders' supporters greeted the ruling, and the politician himself smiled as he left the courtroom.
Comparing the Koran to 'Mein Kampf'
The politician had been on trial since October 2010 because he compared the Koran with Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" in Internet forums and in "Fitna", a film he made that was extremely critical of Islam. In his closing statement, Wilders said that his controversial statements against Islam were protected by the right to free speech. Wilders said he believed the process of Islamization presents a threat to Europe and that it is his right and duty to warn the public about it.
If he had been convicted, Wilders could have faced up to one year in jail or a fine of up to 7,600 ($10,865). At the peak of the controversy over his statements, Wilders was once even banned from entering the United Kingdom.
After making strong gains in elections in the Netherlands last summer, Wilders' party has become the third strongest in parliament. Although it is not technically part of the government, Wilders party supports the minority government, which is comprised of the center-right Liberal Party and the conservative Christian Democrats and which would collapse without backing from Wilders' Party of Freedom.
Wilders' comments sparked a massive debate on the integration of Muslims in Europe that has helped fuel other populist movements around the continent. In Germany, politician Thilo Sarrazin wrote a bestselling book warning that Muslim immigrants were dumbing the country down.
dsl -- with wires
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