Far-right Dutch MP could become an attractive coalition partner after the June 9 poll.
|Wilders faces up to a year in prison or a fine of more than $10,000 for his comments if convicted [AFP]|
Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch politician, has gone on trial in the Netherlands on charges of inciting anti-Muslim hatred.
Appearing at the Amsterdam court on Monday, Wilders appealed for freedom of expression, saying he was a suspect “because I expressed my opinion as a respresentative of the people”.
“Formally I’m on trial here today, but with me, the freedom of expression of many, many Dutch people is also being judged,” he said in reference to the 1.4 million supporters who helped vote his country in at third place in June.
Wilders has been accused of inciting hate against Muslims through his short internet film, Fitna, which denounced the Quran as a fascist book and in comments made in Dutch newspapers and on Internet forums.
He is facing five counts of giving religious offence to Muslims and inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims and people of non-Western immigrant origin, particularly Moroccans.
Fitna, released in 2008, urged Muslims to tear out “hate-filled” passages from the Quran and juxtaposes images of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US with quotations from the text.
Prosecutors have also accused Wilders of making comments comparing Islam to Nazismand calling for a ban on the Muslim holy book.
He risks up to a year in jail or a 7,600-euro ($10,471) fine for his comments if convicted.
Monday’s trial was adjourned for 24-hours shortly after Wilders’ made his opening remarks, because he declined to answer any questions from the three judges.
Jan Moors, the presiding judge, said Wilders is known for making bold statements but avoiding discussions, and added that “it appears you’re doing so again”.
Wilders previously appealed to have the case dismissed, saying his remarks were not against Muslims but rather against Islam, and were protected by freedom of speech.
Wilders’ trial comes two days after the Dutch government approved a coalition agreement with his far-right Freedom party.
The Christian Democrat (CDA) party voted on Saturday to co-operate with the Freedom party, removing another hurdle to forming a conservative Dutch government.
Wilders has agreed to support the minority coalition in return for a ban on women wearing the veil.
Ties at stake
Al Jazeera’s Tania Page, reporting from London, said the outcome of the trial could adversely affect his party’s relationship with the minority coalition.
“He is becoming more and more a prominent political figure in the Netherlands,” she said.
“However, if he is found guilty of these charges, he does face potentially up to a year in jail, which will make void his leadership of his party for Freedom and his propping up of this minority Christian Democrat government.
“But he’s said as far as he is concerned, he’s done nothing wrong.”
Wilders has been under permanent police protection since his life was threatened in 2004 by a Muslim suspect.
He describes himself as a libertarian and rejects comparisons with rightist European politicians such as the late Jorg Haider in Austria and Jean-Marie Le Pen in France.
Wilders began his political career as a speech writer, town councilman and member of parliament for the centrist pro-business Liberal Party, but left in 2004 over its readiness to accept Turkey into the European Union.