A court on Wednesday ordered the continuation of the hate speech trial of one of the Netherlands' most popular leaders, an anti-immigrant politician who has compared Islam to fascism and called for a ban on the Quran.
Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party is propping up an all-conservative minority Cabinet, is accused of making discriminatory remarks on the basis of race and religion, and of inciting hatred against Muslims.
He denies wrongdoing, saying his comments are part of legitimate political debate and within his free-speech rights. Opponents say Wilders' remarks have led to increased discrimination against Muslims in the Netherlands, where they make up around six percent of the population, and impinging on their right to freedom of religion.
"Disappointing ruling at Amsterdam court," Wilders wrote on his Twitter feed. "Still am convinced of acquittal, will never be silenced."
Judge Marcel van Oosten rejected defense arguments that prosecutors had gone beyond the scope of their case, and that the Amsterdam District Court was the wrong venue for a trial, noting that some of Wilders' most potentially offensive remarks had been made or published in the Dutch capital.
However, Van Oosten said prosecutors had erred by including one of Wilders' most-frequently cited remarks in their case against him.
"I've had enough of the Quran in the Netherlands: Forbid that fascist book," Wilders wrote in the Amsterdam-published newspaper De Volkskrant. Van Oosten said that prosecutors had been supposed to limit themselves to remarks that compared Islam to Naziism, not fascism.
However, Van Oosten noted that a similar remark made by Wilders in the same interview: "the core of the problem is the fascist Islam, the sick ideology of Allah and Mohammed as written down in the Islamic Mein Kampf," was properly part of the case, since in that instance, the comparison with Naziism is clear.
Immigration-related issues have dominated politics in the Netherlands and much of Europe over the past decade. Wilders has drawn comparisons with populists such as the late Jorg Haider in Austria and Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, among others.
Wilders is supporting the current Dutch Cabinet in exchange for a promise to legislate new rules curtailing immigration and banning Muslim face-covering clothing.
Wednesday's ruling on defense lawyer Bram Moszkowicz's preliminary objections was the second time around in this case. A previous trial panel was scrapped last year shortly before it was due to rule, after accusations against the judges of potential bias. The case has now been returned to the pretrial phase with new judges, essentially a retrial.
In the previous trial, prosecutors had recommended acquittal, saying Wilders' remarks may have been hurtful but were not illegal.
On Wednesday they read an abridged version of their indictment, saying Wilders had "made expressions insulting to Muslims as a group," and "incited hatred against people, namely Muslims, on the basis of their religion or race."
The separate charges carry sentences of up to a year, though a fine would be more likely if Wilders were found guilty. He could in theory continue serving as a member of parliament even if jailed.
The next hearing in the case is due April 13, with a verdict expected in June.