Dutch politician Geert Wilders was acquitted by an appeals court on September 4, 2020 of discrimination, in a partial legal victory for the far-right populist who leads the opposition in parliament and who is known for his anti-Islam rhetoric.
According to a news article written by Reuters’ Toby Sterling and Anthony Deutsch, the panel agreed with a lower court ruling from 2016 that dismissed the separate offense of inciting hatred and rejected a prosecution request that Wilders pay a fine of 5,000 euros ($5,900). However, it upheld his conviction for intentionally insulting Moroccans as a group.
Wilders is one of Europe’s most prominent far-right leaders and is polling in second place ahead of March elections. He has been a key figure in shaping the immigration debate in the Netherlands over the past decade, although he has never been in government.
“The court considers it proven that Wilders is guilty of group insult on March 19, 2014. The court will not impose any punishment or measure on him for this,” presiding judge J.M. Reinking said. “He is acquitted of the other facts.”
Moreover, in 2016 he was convicted of insulting a group and inciting discrimination. But the 56-year-old anti-Islam politician called the case a political show-trial and challenged the verdicts. He argued his comments should be protected by his right to freedom of speech.
Wilders, who has lived under constant police protection for more than a decade due to death threats, has “already paid a high price for years for expressing his opinion”, the presiding judge said. “The court cleared Wilders of ‘incitement to hatred or discrimination’ because Wilders’ intent was not aimed at encouraging his audience to do so,” the judges found.
Wilders, 56, said he would appeal the charge of ‘insulting a group’ for which he was convicted. “Of course we will appeal and we will go to the Supreme Court because the verdict and the guilty sentence are ridiculous.” “I’m very happy on the other hand that I was found innocent when it comes to charges of incitement of discrimination and hatred,“ he told journalists at the court.
Wilders, whose Freedom Party has at times topped national opinion polls, had argued he did nothing wrong, and merely expressed openly what many Dutch people think. He was convicted in 2016 of inciting discrimination at a campaign rally two years earlier, when he led supporters in asking whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the country. “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” his supporters chanted. “We’re going to take care of that,” Wilders said, smiling.
The judges in both the first trial and the appeal said Wilders had planned the remarks ahead of time, knowing they would be inflammatory and insulting to the 400,000 people of Moroccan heritage in the Netherlands. At the original trial in 2016, prosecutors took testimony from Dutch-Moroccans who said Wilders’ comments made them feel like “third-rate citizens”.
Wilders said on Twitter ahead of the verdict that his appeals trial would decide if the Netherlands had “become a corrupt banana republic where the leader of the opposition is sentenced in a political trial.” He said the judgment was being handed down at a heavily secured court near Schiphol airport “while Moroccans who set our cities on fire usually get away with it and never see the inside of a court.”
Wilders was previously prosecuted in 2011, over anti-Islam comments such as comparing the religion to Nazism and calling for a ban on the Koran. He was acquitted and the case was widely seen as giving the populist leader a publicity boost.