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Dutch Anti-Islam Politician Faces Trial For Inciting Hatred

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party of Freedom, speaks to supporters in March.

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party of Freedom, speaks to supporters in March.

Anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders' trial on hate-speech charges has begun in Amsterdam, just days after his party became a silent partner in a newly proposed Dutch government.

Prosecutors say Wilders incited hatred against Muslims with remarks in a 2007 newspaper opinion column that compared Islam to Nazism. Charges also are related to a 2008 film he produced that was critical of the Koran and encouraged Muslims to tear out pages of their holy book.

Wilders -- a far-right politician who has called for a ban on the Koran -- has argued that he has a right to freedom of speech and that his remarks were within the bounds of the law.

Presiding Judge Jan Moors said today that a verdict is expected to be announced in Wilders' case on November 4. If convicted, Wilders could face up to a year in prison, even though he could still be allowed to keep his seat in parliament.

On his Twitter account today, Wilders sent out a message saying that the start of his trial was a "terrible day."

"The freedom of expression of at least 1.5 million people is standing trial together with me," he wrote, referring to voters that made his Freedom Party the third-largest in national elections in June.

In the courtroom today, his lawyer Bram Moszkowicz told Judge Moors that Wilders would not answer questions during the trial. "My client will, at my advice, exercise his right to silence today, tomorrow and the other days," he said.

Anti-Immigrant Platform

The case against Wilders comes as the Netherlands prepares for its first stable government since February. Analysts say Wilders will use the trial as a platform to reinforce his credentials as a political outsider -- despite his new role in supp
Geert Wilders (right) appears in court with his lawyer Bram Moszkowicz.
ort of a minority government.

During the weekend, members of the Dutch Christian Democrats (CDA) approved a coalition deal with the liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy and with Wilders' far-right Freedom Party. Queen Beatrix could formally approve the coalition deal as soon as next week.

Under the coalition deal, Wilders' party would not receive any cabinet seats. But the Freedom Party has agreed to support the new minority government in exchange for concessions on issues of immigration and legislation that would ban Muslim women from wearing burqas or veils over their faces in public.

More specifically, the coalition deal calls for legislation that would bar radical religious leaders from entering the Netherlands. Immigrants convicted of crimes would be expelled more rapidly and immigrants who fail an integration exam would lose their residence permits.

Coalition Misgivings

Justice Minister Hirsch Ballin, a prominent Christian Democrat, expressed misgivings in a newspaper column that was published on October 2, saying that the Freedom Party had "driven a wedge in society" and wanted to turn a million people into second-class citizens.

According to the Dutch statistics office, there are roughly 850,000 Dutch citizens who profess Islam. If noncitizens living in Netherlands are included, the total number of Muslims is estimated at around 1 million, out of a total population of over 16 million.

Other Christian Democrats warned that the fragile coalition is likely to collapse if Wilders makes further demands for far-right policies.

Christian Democrat Camille Eurlings explained those misgivings after the CDA on October 2 approved the coalition deal with the Liberals and the Freedom Party.

"The discussion was not so much on the content [of the coalition deal], because everyone agreed that our negotiation team made a very good deal and is really beyond criticism, almost. The only question was: 'When you join them won't you change? Won't it be dangerous?' And there the majority two-thirds, more than two-thirds said, 'No,'" Eurlings said.

"We trust that our party will be strong enough [and] will really safeguard the guidelines of our principles and it will not continue to govern when our Freedom Party partner, that supports the government would do strange things."

'A Dangerous Political Ideology'

For his part, the trial has not stopped efforts by the 47-year-old Wilders to gain political support by criticizing Islam.

On October 2, Wilders took his anti-Islam campaign to Germany, where he is trying to help start a branch of his Freedom Party. He told supporters in Berlin that Germany needed a political movement "that opposes the Islamization" of the country:

"Today there is a ghost going around Europe. It is the ghost of Islam," Wilders said. "This danger today is also political. Islam is not just a religion, as many believe. Islam is above all a dangerous political ideology."

Wilders spoke in Berlin at the invitation of Rene Stadtkewitz, a member of Berlin's city parliament who had been a member of Germany's Christian Democrats until recently, when he was ousted for inviting Wilders to the German capital.

Stadtkewitz now hopes to found his own party in Germany called "Die Freiheit," or "Freedom."

compiled from agency reports