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Europe

Controversial PVV leader Wilders to stand trial over 'hate speech'

A court in the Netherlands has upheld charges against the far-right politician Geert Wilders. The ruling removes the last obstacle to the anti-Islam firebrand standing trial on charges of hate speech.

Geert Wilders' (pictured) trial for incitement to racial hatred can go ahead at the end of the month, a court ruled Friday, thwarting a last-ditch appeal to have the case dismissed.

Wilders' lawyers had argued that the leader of the far-right Freedom Party (PVV) was being singled out, saying that prosecutors have broad leeway in determining when they think someone has crossed the line from offensive speech to discriminatory speech and that the case is "political" ahead of March elections.

"The court rejects all the defense's objections," judge Hendrik Steenhuis told The Hague district court.

The charges stem from comments Wilders made at a March 2014 election rally in The Hague, when the anti-Islam politician asked supporters whether they wanted "fewer or more Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands?" When the crowd shouted back "Fewer! Fewer!" a smiling Wilders answered: "We're going to organize that."

Wilders' remarks triggered 6,400 complaints, and criticism from within his own party. Some 56 people and five organizations have registered as victims of the comments, and at least 34 witnesses have come forward.

It is on this basis that he is being prosecuted under a Dutch law making it a criminal offense to incite hatred against religious or ethnic groups. Wilders remains publicly unrepentant, insisting at his last court appearance that he only said "what millions of Dutch citizens think," and adding that he had "no regrets." He took to Twitter to argue that his case is a test for free speech.

The PVV had  been riding high in the polls ahead of the March vote, but has recently lost its lead to Prime Minister Mark Rutte's liberal VVD party. Wilders rose to international prominence when in 2011, he was acquitted of inciting racial hatred charges for calling for the Koran to be banned and for the deportation of "criminal" Moroccans.

Judges in that case ruled that his remarks - while offensive to many - were within the bounds of legitimate political discourse and hence protected speech. The new trial is slated to open October 31.

jar/kl (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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