Wilders challenges his trial judge
Published on 4 October 2010 - 12:42pm
The trial of Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders was suspended until further notice after his lawyer Bram Moszkowicz challenged the presiding judge after less than two hours on the first day of the proceedings.
At the start of his trial on charges of inciting hatred against Muslims, Mr Wilders invoked his legal right to remain silent, which prompted the presiding judge to remark that the court also read newspapers and watched television, and that it seemed as though - as noted in the media before - Mr Wilders prefers to avoid discussion.
Mr Moszkowicz said it was inappropriate for the presiding judge to give his interpretation of his client’s decision to remain silent. He pointed out that Mr Wilders is already facing a court ruling “which resembles a conviction”. The case against the politician was initially dismissed by the Public Prosecutors’ Office, but charges were filed following a court order issued in a special complaints procedure. The court rejected the accusation of bias and will not recuse itself, i.e. will not declare itself incompetent to hear the case. A separate section of the court will assess the merits of Mr Moszkowicz’s challenge to the presiding judge.
If convicted, Geert Wilders, who looks set to become a shadow partner in the next Dutch government, risks up to one year in jail or a 7,600-euro fine for calling Islam "a fascist ideology" and likening the Qur'an to Hitler's Mein Kampf.
He is charged with five counts of causing religious offence to Muslims and inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims and immigrants of non-Western origin, particularly Moroccans. In comments made between October 2006 and March 2008 in Dutch newspapers and on internet forums, prosecutors say that Wilders described Islam as "the sick ideology of Allah and Muhammad" and its holy book as "the Mein Kampf of a religion that seeks to eliminate others".
Among the evidence is Mr Wilders' 17-minute film Fitna, which allegedly depicts Islam as a force bent on destroying the West and prompted protests in much of the Muslim world when first published in the Netherlands in 2008.
Geert Wilders arrived at the Amsterdam district court minutes before the start of the hearing. About a dozen protesters had gathered outside the court building with a large placard accusing him of "division and polarisation". A large contingent of police, some in riot gear, were also present. "The different colours of our society is what makes us rich, but that is being threatened by Mr Wilders," Mustafa Ayranci, one of the group's organisers and head of the Turkish labour association, told AFP.
Propping up the next government
Geert Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV) emerged as the third largest part in the June elections, with 24 of the 150 seats in the lower house of the Dutch parliament. Under a coalition deal being finalised, the PVV will give parliamentary support to a minority cabinet of the Christian Democrats (CDA) and conservative VVD in return for a voice in policy making.