Dutch prosecutors seek acquittal of anti-Islam pol

AP News
Posted: Oct 15, 2010 1:56 PM
Dutch prosecutors seek acquittal of anti-Islam pol

Dutch prosecutors asked judges Friday to acquit anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders on all charges of inciting hate and discrimination against Muslims, in a case seen as testing the limits of free speech versus religious freedom.

The move by prosecutors signaled their belief the case against Wilders was weak, although judges could still disagree and convict him. The defense begins its case next week and a verdict is scheduled for next month.

The case is being closely watched in many European countries, where immigration has created a backlash of anti-Muslim sentiment and boosted nationalist parties that are outspokenly negative toward Islam and Muslims.

Muslims complained to Dutch authorities that Wilders crossed the line when, among many slurs, he compared Islam to Naziism and the Quran to Hitler's manifesto, Mein Kampf.

Prosecutors told the court that Wilders' statements may be "hurtful" or "insulting" to Muslims, but there was insufficient proof to convict him of trying to polarize Dutch society into antagonistic groups. He has never called for violence.

Wilders, who had frowned throughout Friday's hearing, broke into a wide smile as the prosecutors concluded by running through the charges against him and asking for acquittal on each.

"I don't insult, I don't incite hate, I don't discriminate," he said outside the courtroom afterward. "The only thing I do, and will keep on doing, is speaking the truth."

In her summation, prosecutor Birgit van Roessel said Wilders' statements were made as part of the public debate "about the immigration and integration of nonwestern foreigners, especially Muslims."

"Standpoints can vary considerably and emotions can run high, but ... it is a debate that it must be possible to have," she said.

In one example cited by prosecutors, Wilders wrote in a 2007 opinion piece: "I've had enough of Islam in the Netherlands; let not one more Muslim immigrate," and urged that the Quran be banned.

The prosecutors said that statement, like others, was within the legal bounds of public debate.

Many of Wilders' statements seemed to denounce Islam as an ideology or its the growing influence in the Netherlands, rather than being intended as an abuse of Muslims as a people or group, Van Roessel said.

Prosecutors had initially declined to press charges against Wilders at all, but were ordered to do so by an appeals court that ruled there was significant evidence against him.

Muslims, mostly from Morocco and Turkey, comprise about 6 percent of the Netherlands' 16.5 million population.

If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to a year in jail, though a fine is more likely.

A right-wing government that depends on Wilders' Freedom Party to reach a one-vote majority in parliament took office on Thursday, making him one of the nation's most powerful politicians.

Although not a member of the ruling coalition, many of his election planks have been incorporated in the plans of the minority Cabinet. They include measures to turn away more asylum seekers, halve the number of new immigrants from nonwestern countries, ban the public wearing of face-concealing Muslim garb and force immigrants to pay for their own mandatory citizenship classes.