Defense lawyers sought Wednesday to discredit a judge who ordered Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders to face trial on charges of inciting hatred against Muslims.
Wilders, leader of the country's third-largest political party, says he has done nothing wrong by expressing his opinions that Islam is a violent ideology comparable with fascism, and that the Quran should be banned.
Defense witness Hans Jansen, a retired professor of Arabic and Islamic studies, testified that he had been approached at a dinner by appeals judge Tom Schalken to discuss the Wilders case shortly before the trial was to start. Defense lawyers argue that contact was inappropriate and grounds for dismissing the hate speech case.
Schalken sat on the panel that ordered Wilders' case to proceed, even after prosecutors had declined to press charges and a trial court had endorsed that decision.
"Do you think that he(Schalken) tried to influence your testimony?" defense lawyer Bram Moszkowicz asked Jansen.
"Yes. I think he did," Jansen answered.
Schalken, testifying later, denied trying to influence Jansen or having committed any impropriety. He said he was surprised to learn that Jansen considered Wilders' prosecution a "witchhunt."
Schalken said he didn't think that Jansen understood the appeals panel's reasoning, so he tried to explain it to him "so he could form his viewpoint on the basis of the right foundation."
Judges are expected to rule on the motion for dismissal on Friday.
Wilders says the trial is about his right to free speech. Dutch Muslims who pressed for the trial say it is about their right to practice their religion freely. They say Wilders' strident anti-Islam tone has led to increased discrimination against them and even attacks on mosques.
Wilders is charged with inciting hatred against Muslims based on their religion or race, and for "making statements insulting to Muslims as a group." Each charge carries a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment, although a fine would be more likely if he were found guilty.
Nearly 100 public remarks by Wilders have been entered into evidence. Typical among them was an interview published in De Volkskrant newspaper in which he said: "The core of the problem is the fascist Islam, the sick ideology of Allah and Mohammed as written down in the Islamic Mein Kampf."
Wilders' international profile grew after his short film "Fitna" aired in 2008, which equated Islam with violence and led to protests in Muslim countries. He announced earlier this month he is making a new film, this time about the life of the Prophet Mohammed.
His party is supporting a conservative minority Cabinet, in exchange for a promise of new rules curtailing immigration and banning Muslim face-covering clothing.