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.

Right-wing populist Geert Wilders has been cleared of all charges. Zoom
AFP/ ANP

Right-wing populist Geert Wilders has been cleared of all charges.

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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BTraven 06/24/2011
According to an article in the „Guardian“ only his rhetorical skills prevented him from being sentenced. That makes him so dangerous. He can even be sure that the government support his party which tolerates it at the moment. So he has managed to bring the government to issue a law which says that immigrants have to pay for any integration courses. Who fails the examination will have to leave the country. The problem is that he only have to wait for any acts of violence by ethnics affected by the measures. It would give him a perfect reason to demand even harsher laws. It’s a perfect position. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/23/geert-wilders-acquitted-incitement-hatred
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