Late last week, two Dutch conservative parties agreed to form a minority coalition that is expected to work with the anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV). Now the PVV's leader has gone on trial for inciting hatred.
Wilders: 'The freedom of the Dutch is on trial with me'
Geert Wilders, head of the Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands, went on trial Monday in the Netherlands on charges of inciting hatred, less than a week after entering parliament as a linchpin in the new coalition government.
The far right political leader faces five charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims and people of non-Western immigrant origin, particularly Moroccans.
"He divides, he creates hate, he creates conflicts between people," said Mohammed Rabbae of the National Council for Moroccans.
Wilders remained defiant as his trial began. The controversial politician with his trademark shock of dyed-blonde hair told the court he was being persecuted for "stating my opinion in the context of public debate," adding: "I can assure you, I will continue proclaiming it."
Hatred against Muslims
The charges brought against Wilders are in connection to his outspoken remarks to the media. In an opinion piece in a Dutch daily, he compared Islam to fascism and the Koran to Adolf Hitler's book "Mein Kampf."
Anti-Wilders protests have taken place around Europe
The PVV leader also made the film "Fitna" in 2008 which portrayed the Koran as inciting violence and mixed images of terrorist attacks with quotations from the Islamic holy book.
Wilders denies the charges of inciting hatred and insulting Muslims and maintains that Islam poses a threat to democracy.
Before the opening of his trial he told a Dutch magazine: "It's outrageous that I have to appear in court - in a political show trial - for saying things that millions of Dutch people also think. In a way, it is an attack on the freedom of speech in the Netherlands. This freedom is being sacrificed on the altar of Islam. And that is very sad!"
Pivotal position in future Dutch government
The trial comes as Wilders' political influence soars. Wilders' Party For Freedom won 24 seats in the June 9 elections in the Netherlands, becoming the country's third most powerful political force.
Wilders' PVV is the third largest party in the Netherlands
His party is poised to form a coalition government with the Liberals (VVD) and Christian Democrat (CDA) parties. The three parties together have a tiny majority of 76 seats in the 150-seat Dutch parliament.
"It has never happened before that such a prominent member of the parliament and a parliamentary leader needs to answer up to charges in front of a criminal court for comments inciting hate," high-profile lawyer Gerard Spong told Dutch BNR radio.
The trial is being held over several days in October, with a ruling expected in early November. If convicted, he faces up to a year in prison or a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($13,800).
Author: Natalia Dannenberg, Gabriel Borrud (dpa/Reuters/AFP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold