Surprise, surprise – Wilders is acquitted of inciting hatred

Geert Wilders extremistAn Amsterdam court Thursday acquitted Dutch far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders on charges of hate speech and discrimination for statements he made attacking Islam.

“You are being acquitted on all the charges that were put against you,” Judge Marcel van Oosten said, reiterating an argument last month by the prosecution that charges against Wilders should be dropped.

“The bench finds that your statements are acceptable within the context of the public debate,” the judge told Wilders, 47, who has been on trial in the Amsterdam regional court since last October.

The flamboyant MP faced five counts of hate speech and discrimination for his anti-Islamic remarks on websites, Internet forums and in Dutch newspapers between October 2006 and March 2008, and in his controversial 17-minute movie “Fitna”.

The leader of the right-wing Party for Freedom’s (PVV) acquittal comes on the backdrop of a prosecution unwilling to take up the case against the platinum-haired parliamentarian, who claimed before court he was “defending freedom in the Netherlands” against Islam.

Wilders has demanded his acquittal before the court, saying he was “obliged to speak” because The Netherlands is “under threat” from Islam. Wilders, whose party lends its support to a right-leaning Dutch coalition government, said he was “defending the character, the identity, the culture and the freedom of The Netherlands.”

His case has been helped by a reluctant prosecution, who last month again asked for his acquittal, saying that although his comments may have frequently caused anxiety and insult, they were not criminal as they criticised Islam as a religion and not Muslims as a people.

On Thursday, Judge van Oosten said about Wilders’ statements: “The bench finds that although gross and degenerating, it did not give rise to hatred.”

The prosecution’s unwillingness to take aim at Wilders dates as far back as 2008 when it refused to take up a case against him following complaints. On January 21, 2009, however, the Amsterdam appeals court forced the prosecution to mount a case against him.

AFP, 23 June 2011

See also Associated Press, 23 June 2011