| Al Jazeera's Tania Page reports from Amsterdam, Netherlands
Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders has been acquitted by a court in Amsterdam where he was on trial for inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims.
Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party, has described Islam as a "fascist ideology", comparing the Quran to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. He was acquitted on all five charges that were pressed against him.
The judge on Thursday said that Wilders' statements were "rude and condescending" but not a criminal offence according to Dutch law.
"The bench finds that your statements are acceptable within the context of the public debate," the judge told Wilders, who has been on trial in the Amsterdam regional court since last October.
Wilders has said he has a "problem with Islamic tradition, culture, [and] ideology; not with Muslim people".
The judge interpreted Wilders' remarks as challenging Islam as an ideology, which is not a criminal offence in the Netherlands. "[…] although gross and degenerating, it did not give rise to hatred," the judge said.
Wilders supporters applauded and he smiled as he left the courtroom.
Freedom of speech
A collection of minority groups that view Wilders' comments as having overstepped the boundaries of free speech first pressed charges in 2007; however, the Dutch public prosecution refused to pursue Wilders, saying it did not believe in a successful outcome to the case.
In 2009 an Amsterdam appeals court overturned that decision and ordered an investigation into "Fitna"
("Discord" in Arabic) - a short film Wilders produced on alleged Islamic extremism.
The case against Wilders started in January 2010, but then collapsed following claims that the judges were biased. It was re-started a month later.
Wilders' supporters labelled the case a left-wing conspiracy and a head-on attack on freedom of expression in the Netherlands.
On the other side of the spectrum, anti-Wilders groups warned the plaintiffs of the consequences of giving the politician a platform, fearing it would only raise his profile further.
Wilders formed his Freedom Party [PVV] - now the country's third largest party - after defecting from the VVD [right-wing liberals] in 2004 and has seen his following grow ever since.
Wilders' anti-Islamic and anti-establishment ideas won the PVV 15 per cent of the vote at the 2010 election.
Wilders, who remained silent throughout most of the proceedings, argued in his final statement on 6 May that: "The Netherlands is under threat of Islam. Truth and freedom are inextricably connected. We must speak the truth because otherwise we shall lose our freedom."
He reminded the court of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, who was murdered in 2002 by a left-wing environmentalist for his political ideas, and Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh, who was murdered by a Muslim extremist in 2004 after making comments on Islam.
"I am here because of what I have said," Wilders stated, "I am here for having spoken. I have spoken, I speak and I shall continue to speak. Many have kept silent, but not Pim Fortuyn, not Theo van Gogh, and not me."
Source: Al Jazeera