THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch prosecutors insisted Wednesday that the decision to put populist anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders on trial for hate speech was based purely on the law, countering Wilders' claims that the case is politically motivated.
Putting Wilders on trial "is based on a thorough analysis of the law, the specific circumstances of this case and the use of all the expertise of the prosecutor's office," prosecutor Wouter Bos told a three-judge panel. "Nothing more, nothing less."
Wilders, whose Freedom Party is riding high in opinion polls ahead of parliamentary elections in March, is refusing to attend the trial, labeling it a political witch hunt.
The trial centers on comments Wilders made before and after Dutch municipal elections in 2014. At one meeting in a Hague cafe he asked supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands, sparking a chant of "Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!"
"We'll take care of it," he replied, in a video recording played in court.
Bos said that the trial "touches on the foundations of society because two fundamental values are struggling for primacy, fundamental values of our free and democratic society: The ban on discrimination and the freedom of expression."
But he added, "freedom of expression is not absolute. It goes hand-in-hand with obligations and responsibilities."
In a statement read in court by his lawyer earlier in the trial, Wilders defended his comments, saying, "It is my right and my duty as a politician to speak about the problems in our country."
Prosecutors are expected to make their sentence demand on Thursday, before Wilders' defense lawyers make their closing statement.
Wilders faces a maximum sentence of two years' imprisonment if convicted of insulting a group based on race, and inciting hatred and discrimination. However, prosecutors say courts mostly sentence people convicted of such offenses to a fine or community service order.