Dutch far-right MP Geert Wilders, known for his comments attacking Islam and Muslims, has triggered a fight over fake news, after posting a Twitter message showing a digitally altered picture of another party leader at a rally.
Some five weeks before key elections in The Netherlands, Wilders on Monday posted the fake picture of D66 leader Alexander Pechtold supposedly at a rally with Muslims holding up signs reading: “Islam will conquer Europe” and “Shariah for The Netherlands”, referring to Islamic law.
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Wilders’ anti-Islam and anti-immigrant platform has helped propel his Freedom Party (PVV) to the top of the opinion polls in recent months in advance of the March 15 vote.
In his tweet, he accused Pechtold, who heads the pro-European, social-liberal D66 party of “demonstrating with Hamas terrorists”.
D66 wil Amsterdam afsplitsen als de verkiezingsuitslag tegenvalt.
Pechtold demonstreert met Hamas-terroristen.
Is dit de volgende stap? pic.twitter.com/U07jHfQmyh
— Geert Wilders (@geertwilderspvv) February 6, 2017
D66 is one of 28 parties contesting the election and is currently trailing fifth in the polls.
Wilders’ taunt prompted an angry reaction from Pechtold.
“Usually, I laugh at Photoshopped pictures on the internet. But not this time,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
“Not because I can’t stand up for myself … but because it gives people false impressions.”
Last year, Pechtold sued a PVV supporter over photos that sparked death threats against him.
“In these times of fake news and alternative facts, we can’t just ignore the consequences that such a fake image can have,” he said.
“I draw the line today.”
The AFP news agency reported that other politicians also sided with Pechtold. Jesse Klaver, leader of GroenLinks (Green Left), called Wilders’ Tweet “low and irresponsible”.
“Those who tweet fake news about others, tarnish their own credibility.”
Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher, leader of the Labour party, simply retweeted Wilders tweet with the message “delete your account”.
But Wilders hit back against Pechtold on Twitter, saying: “Stop complaining, drama queen. You have demonstrated standing among Palestinian flags, with friends of Hamas. #hypocrite”.
The vote in The Netherlands will kick off a year of elections in Europe with ballots also due in France and Germany. They will be closely watched amid the rise of populist and far-right parties on the continent.