Dutch lawmaker acqitted of hate crime

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — The boundaries of free speech in Europe widened Thursday after a Dutch court acquitted politician Geert Wilders of inciting hatred against Muslims when he compared Islam with Naziism and called for a ban on the Qur’an.

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — The boundaries of free speech in Europe widened Thursday after a Dutch court acquitted politician Geert Wilders of inciting hatred against Muslims when he compared Islam with Naziism and called for a ban on the Qur’an.

Political analysts say the ruling will likely embolden Wilders and other right-wing populists across the continent to ramp up their anti-immigrant rhetoric, with remarks like Wilders’ call for a “head rag tax.”

The ruling did lay down a clear limit: Calls for violence remain out of bounds. Wilders, has never called for violence or endorsed it.

Presiding Judge Marcel van Oosten said some of Wilders’ comments — such as saying foreign influences are “breeding” in the Netherlands and threatening to overrun Dutch culture — may be “crude and denigrating.” But he said they did not amount to inciting hatred and must be seen in a wider context of a fierce national debate over immigration policy and multiculturalism.

While the United States has enshrined the right to freedom of speech in its Constitution, many European nations introduced hate-speech laws in the wake of World War II, determined to prevent the scapegoating of minorities.

Van Oosten cited one of Wilders’ most incendiary statements — “the core of the problem is the fascist Islam, the sick ideology of Allah and Mohammed as laid down in the Islamic Mein Kampf: the Qur’an” — saying that criticism of a religion and its followers is not illegal.

Wilders sat stone-faced while the judge read the ruling, but smiled broadly and shook hands with his lawyers after the verdict. His cheering supporters hugged each other in the public gallery, and Wilders waved to them and grinned as he left the courtroom.

“It’s not only an acquittal for me, but a victory for freedom of expression in the Netherlands,” he said afterward. “Fortunately you’re allowed to discuss Islam in public debate and you’re not muzzled.”

Political science professor Andre Krouwel of Amsterdam’s Free University said Wilders might have been convicted a decade ago, but his ideas have since entered the mainstream. Wilders’ Freedom political party is now the country’s third-largest in parliament and it is propping up an all-conservative Dutch government that agrees with much of his right-wing platform.

“(The verdict) will further the inward-looking and to some extent xenophobic atmosphere in the Netherlands,” predicted professor Leo Lucassen, chair of the Social History department at Leiden University.

The verdict comes a week after the government announced plans to end programs to help integrate immigrants into Dutch society, which “fuels this idea of immigrants who are basically an alien element to the Dutch people,” Lucassen told The Associated Press.

The government also is moving to ban Muslim face-covering clothing and to further slash immigration.

Dutch Muslims who pressed for the trial said Wilders’ strident anti-Islam tone has already led to increased discrimination and harassment against them, and even attacks on mosques. But Krouwel said seeking remedy in the courts proved an “incredible mistake” because Thursday’s decision “legalized populist rhetoric.”

“Inside the Netherlands and outside, politicians will now go the same way: to the edge of what is allowed,” he told the AP. “Right-wing politicians in other countries will be able to point to the Netherlands and say, ’They can say it there, why not here?”’

Immigration-related issues have dominated politics in the Netherlands and much of Europe over the past decade. Wilders has drawn comparisons with populists such as the late Jorg Haider in Austria and Jean-Marie Le Pen in France.

His stances resound deeply with Dutch voters, who have reconsidered their famous tolerance amid fears their culture is being eroded by immigrants who don’t share their values. Around six per cent of the Dutch population is now Muslim.

Groups that filed the complaints that led to Wilders’ prosecution were disappointed with Thursday’s ruling.

“What surprises me is that the judge says that what’s permissible is determined by the context of the societal debate,” said Aydin Akkaya, chairman of Council of Turks in the Netherlands. “In other words, if you just find a ’context’ you can go nuts.”

Mohamed Rabbae, chairman of the moderate National Moroccan Council, said the case has gone as far as it can in the Dutch courts and the battle will switch to another venue.

“We will go to the U.N. Committee for Human Rights in Geneva. The suit will be directed against the government of the Netherlands for not protecting ethnic minorities against racism and discrimination,” he said in an email.

The court found that Wilders was “at the edge of what’s legally permissible” when he described the threat Islam allegedly poses to Dutch culture as “a fight going on and we must arm ourselves.”

“This has an inciting character,” Van Oosten said. But because the lawmaker later added that he has no objections to Muslims who integrate and accept Dutch values, judges ruled he had not crossed the line.

The court paid special attention to Wilders’ 2008 film, “Fitna,” — Arabic for “ordeal” — a 15-minute series of verses from the Qur’an juxtaposed against news videos of violence and terrorism. The film prompted angry demonstrations and official protests around the Muslim world.

“Given the film in its whole and the context of societal debate, the court finds that there is no question of inciting hate with the film,” the judgment said.

Even prosecutors called for his acquittal and said they are satisfied with the ruling. Despite prosecutors’ initial reluctance to prosecute the politician, the court ruled last year that it was in society’s interest the case be heard, given public confusion over free speech rules.

———

Associated Press correspondent Arthur Max contributed to this report.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

House sales remain hot in central Alberta with first-quarter sales nearly double last year’s numbers. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Central Alberta real estate market hot in 2021

Residential sales nearly double 2020 in first quarter

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer gave an update on Olymel's COVID-19 situation on Wednesday. (File photo by Advocate staff).
Veer addresses rising COVID-19 cases in Red Deer

Red Deer has added nearly 200 cases of active COVID-19 cases in past week

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney say the province would look at adding additional COVID-19 measures in the coming weeks if the virus continues to spread. (Photo by Government of Alberta)
Walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic to open in Red Deer

Alberta adds 1,345 new cases of the virus

Innisfail RCMP are investigating a single-vehicle crash that happened west of Bowden on March 21, 2021. (File photo by Advocate staff)
RCMP investigate culturally insensitive graffiti at Sylvan Lake school

Sylvan Lake RCMP is investigating a vandalism incident. On April 17 around… Continue reading

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks' Tanner Pearson, right, celebrates after scoring against Toronto Maple Leafs goalie David Rittich during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Pearson, Sutter each score twice as Canucks dump Leafs 6-3

Pearson, Sutter each score twice as Canucks dump Leafs 6-3

Everton's Gylfi Sigurdsson celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's second goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Friday, April 16, 2021. (Peter Powell/Pool via AP)
Super League collapses after the 6 English clubs withdraw

Super League collapses after the 6 English clubs withdraw

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez delivers against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at Fenway Park in Boston. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Bogaerts’ 3-run HR, Rodriguez lift BoSox over Blue Jays 4-2

Bogaerts’ 3-run HR, Rodriguez lift BoSox over Blue Jays 4-2

Pound says Olympic qualifying issues a concern to IOC

Pound says Olympic qualifying issues a concern to IOC

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Ontario Hockey League cancels 2020-21 season as COVID-19 cases surge in province

Ontario Hockey League cancels 2020-21 season as COVID-19 cases surge in province

Lionel Desmond (front row, far right) was part of the 2nd battalion, of the Royal Canadian Regiment, based at CFB Gagetown and shown in this 2007 handout photo taken in Panjwai district in between patrol base Wilson and Masum Ghar in Afghanistan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Facebook-Trev Bungay MANDATORY CREDIT
Desmond inquiry: Veterans Affairs submits internal review after initial refusal

Desmond inquiry: Veterans Affairs submits internal review after initial refusal

FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2021 file photo State representatives gather at the Capitol, in Phoenix. Two years after Arizona lawmakers repealed a law barring any instruction on HIV or AIDS that that "promotes a homosexual lifestyle," they are close to enacting a broad remake of the state's sex education laws with a particular focus on LGBTQ issues. (AP Photo/Matt York,File)
Arizona governor vetoes strict sex education legislation

Arizona governor vetoes strict sex education legislation

Most Read