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Court cases

Dutch anti-Islam politician Wilders stays away as race-hate trial opens

The trial of Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders has begun outside Amsterdam, with the politician himself boycotting proceedings. The lawmaker is accused of inciting racial hatred by comments about Moroccans.

Wilders' trial over "hate-speech" charges began on Monday, with the case being seen as a test of the boundaries of free speech in the Netherlands.

Three judges are sitting on the bench that is hearing the case, which started after a 20-minute delay. Wilders is accused of insulting a racial group and inciting racial hatred.

The 53-year-old was not present as the trial opened at a high-security courthouse close to Schiphol airport. Wilders has refused to cooperate, claiming the case is politically motivated.

Accusation of double standards

In an open letter to the court published in the Rotterdam-based newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, Wilders claimed there was a double standard. He said rivals, including Prime Minister Mark Rutte, had said equally inflammatory things about Turks and Moroccans.

"They can always say these things and not be prosecuted. Rightly. But they want to silence me via the courtroom," he said.

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Under Dutch law in such an event, accused individuals are able to leave their defense to lawyers, with Wilders' lawyer Gert-Jan Knoops leading the defense team. Wilders said that, instead of attending, he would carry on with representing his constituents.

"The legal side of things I entrust to Mr. Knoops, the best lawyer in the Netherlands. He will defend my case… I wish him every success."

Election rally question

The trial is due to run until November 25, and is likely to focus on comments made at a March 2014 local government election rally.

At the time, Wilders asked supporters whether they wanted fewer or more Moroccans in the Netherlands. When the crowd shouted back "Fewer! Fewer!" Wilders replied: "We're going to organize that."

Wilders' statements were met with outrage from the Dutch Muslim community, and there was also condemnation from the Dutch parliament.

Ahead of the hearing, Wilders was unrepentant. "I have no regrets," he said. "If speaking about this is punishable, then the Netherlands is no longer a free democracy but a dictatorship."

Wilders, whose right-wing Freedom Party (PVV) has been sidelined by mainstream rivals in the Dutch legislature, was acquitted on similar charges in 2011. With a general election to take place next year, the PVV is currently running neck-and-neck in the polls with Rutte's Liberals.

rc/tj (AP, AFP)