Dutch MP questioned Moroccans' 'right to exist': court
Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders insulted Moroccans by questioning their very right to exist with hate-filled comments at a rally, his trial heard on Wednesday.
Laying out their case for the first time, prosecutors addressed the trial at a high-security courthouse near Schiphol airport which has been snubbed by the far-right politician.
The 53-year-old is facing charges of insulting a racial group and inciting racial hatred after comments he made about Moroccans living in the Netherlands.
Due to run until 25 November, the trial focuses on a 2014 election rally when Wilders asked supporters whether they wanted "fewer or more Moroccans" in the country.
When the crowd shouted back "Fewer! Fewer!" a smiling Wilders answered: "We're going to organise that."
"In this case an ethnic group is being collectively affected... namely because they are of Moroccan descent," prosecutor Wouter Bos said.
"It affects (their) human dignity to the core. It touches upon their right to exist," he told a three-judge panel.
Bos said that the trial "touches on the foundations of society because two fundamental values are struggling for primacy, fundamental values of our free and democratic society: The ban on discrimination and the freedom of expression."
But he added, "freedom of expression is not absolute. It goes hand-in-hand with obligations and responsibilities".
'That deeply hurts'
Bos read testimonies from aggrieved Dutch-Moroccan citizens after an avalanche of more than 6,400 complaints against Wilders following the rally.
"Wilders' wish that there should be fewer Moroccans... is about our existence. It feels like we shouldn't be here. That deeply hurts," one woman said in her testimony, read by Bos.
Known for his fiery rhetoric, Wilders has snubbed the trial which he has denounced as a "political process" and a "travesty" accusing government of trying to silence him.
It is the second such trial for Wilders, who was acquitted of similar charges in 2011.
|Freedom of expression is not absolute. It goes hand-in-hand with obligations and responsibilities.
- Wouter Bos
But Bos said "the only measure to judge" whether Wilders should be punished for his comments "should be the law - and politicians are also bound by it".
"The public prosecution operates in criminal cases independent from politics," said Bos.
"There's no space for personal opinions" either, he insisted.
Wilders remains unrepentant and has repeatedly maintained he was just "saying what millions of other Dutch people think".
"It is my right and my duty as a politician to speak about the problems in our country," he said as he defended his comments in a statement read in court by his lawyer earlier in the trial.
Bos has insisted that the decision to put Wilders on trial for hate speech was based purely on the law, countering Wilders' claims that the case is politically motivated.
Putting Wilders on trial "is based on a thorough analysis of the law, the specific circumstances of this case and the use of all the expertise of the prosecutor's office," Bos told the three judges.
"Nothing more, nothing less."
|It is my right and my duty as a politician to speak about the problems in our country.
- Geert Wilders
Wilders, whose Freedom Party is riding high in opinion polls ahead of parliamentary elections in March, is refusing to attend the trial, labeling it a political witch-hunt.
He has promised to close mosques, ban Muslim immigrants and withdraw The Netherlands from the European Union. His far-right Freedom Party (PVV) is running a close second to the Liberal VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who heads a coalition government.
Prosecutors are due to announce what sentence they are asking for on Thursday, while a verdict is due on 9 December.
If found guilty, Wilders could face a two-year jail term or a fine of over 20,000 euros, but experts believe it is more likely he would face a lesser fine or community service.