Oct. 4 (Bloomberg) -- A lawyer for Geert Wilders, a Dutch political leader who has agreed to support the country’s minority government, challenged the impartiality of judges at the first day of his trial over his comments about Muslims.
Wilders’s lawyer Bram Moszkowicz criticized Jan Moors, who presides over the three-judge panel, for comments on his client’s refusal to testify. Wilders, founder and head of the Freedom Party, went on trial today for inciting hatred and insulting Muslims.
“You’ve given the impression” that “we are no longer facing an unprejudiced judge, so I will challenge you,” Moszkowicz told the Amsterdam court. The trial was halted and other judges, led by Judge Frans Bauduin, will decide tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. whether a new panel should be chosen.
Wilders, 47, is being prosecuted for calling the Koran “fascist” and comparing it to Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf in a 2007 Dutch newspaper editorial, which led to complaints. A year later, he released the movie “Fitna,” in which he calls on Muslims to rip out “hate-preaching” verses from the book.
Moors said the court “reads newspapers and watches television nowadays” and that Wilders has been blamed by others for being “good in taking a stand and then avoiding a discussion.” By remaining silent “it seems you’re doing that today as well.”
“I find it scandalous that the presiding judge interprets this and comments on it,” Wilders told the court. “With this presiding judge and such a panel of judges, a fair trial isn’t possible anymore.”
The trial coincides with the formation of a new minority government led by the Liberal Party and Christian Democratic Alliance, which relies on Wilder’s Freedom Party to pass legislation. The government plans to ban full-face Islamic veils, an issue for Wilders’ party, which more than doubled its representation in parliament in June elections.
“With me, the freedom of speech of many, many Dutchmen is on trial,” Wilders told the court. “I’ve said everything I have said and won’t take a word of that back.”
Prosecutors in 2008 initially decided against charging Wilders, saying his comments are part of the public debate and are covered by freedom of speech rules. The Amsterdam Court of Appeal last year overruled that decision. More than 40 people reported the editorial comments to the police while others complained about the film, prosecutors said.
“The Court of Appeal considers criminal prosecution obvious for the insult of Islamic worshippers,” when Wilders compared parts of Islam with Nazism, the appeals court ruled, forcing prosecutors to charge Wilders. “Sowing hatred in a democratic system of law is so severe, that there’s a public cause to draw a line in public debate.”
Wilders, who has a bleached-blond bouffant hairstyle, is charged with insulting a group of people, inciting hatred and inciting discrimination with his comments, the prosecution said on its website. He faces as long as a year in prison or a fine of as much as 7,600 euros ($10,400), prosecutor spokesman Franklin Wattimena said.
Wilders, who is under constant police protection, will plead via his lawyer on Oct. 19. Judges are then scheduled to rule on Nov. 4, according to the court’s website.
The Netherlands, the fifth-largest economy in the euro zone, has about 850,000 Muslims, forming 5 percent of the population, according to the Dutch statistics bureau’s 2006 data. Most Muslims in the country are of Turkish or Moroccan origin.
‘Islamization of Europe’
“The Islamization of Europe continues all the time but the West has no strategy for dealing with the Islamic ideology, because our elites say that we must adapt to them rather than the other way round,” Wilders said in a speech Oct. 1 in Berlin at a gathering of the newly founded anti-Islam party called “Die Freiheit,” which is German for “freedom.”
Wilders released his film “Fitna” on the Internet in March 2008. The 17-minute movie features verses from the Koran alongside images of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The movie led to protests in majority-Muslim countries including Indonesia and Pakistan and prompted calls for a boycott of Dutch products in Malaysia.
“From the strong language he uses outside, he has now been reduced to a gagged man, who declines himself the freedom of speech” in court, Mohamed Rabbae, a former lawmaker and chairman of the National Moroccan Council, said in an interview today. Rabbae is one of the people who filed a complaint over Wilders comments.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jurjen van de Pol in Amsterdam at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Fraher at email@example.com.