The Dutch anti-Islam opposition leader Geert Wilders will not be attending his own trial next week to face hate speech charges. Accused of inciting racism on live television in 2014, he said the trial is "political."
The trial - set to start on Monday and last until November 25 at a high security court in Schiphol before a three-judge bench - will see the far-right politician face charges of insulting a racial group.
"Next Monday, the trial against freedom of speech begins. Against a politician who says what the politically correct elite does not want to hear," Wilders wrote in a statement, adding he would leave his defense with his legal team led by Geert-Jan Knoops (pictured above), and instead "go to work" by attending parliamentary sessions in The Hague.
With the campaign for elections on March 15 starting, opinion polls show Wilders' Freedom Party neck-and-neck with the VVD Party of conservative Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Wilders faces a fine of up to 7,400 euros ($8,100) and a year in jail for the remarks, made during campaigning in local elections, which also included calling Moroccans "scum."
"It is a travesty that I have to stand trial because I spoke about fewer Moroccans [coming to the Netherlands.] It is my right and my duty as a politician to speak about the problems in our country," he wrote.
French far right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen and the Netherlands' Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders
In 2011, Wilders was acquitted of inciting racial hatred for calling for the Koran to be banned and for the deportation of "criminal" Moroccans.
Legal experts believe prosecutors have a stronger case this time because he targeted a specific social group, rather than a religion.
In a message released Friday, Wilders says, "It is my right and my duty as a politician to speak about the problems in our country."
jbh/kl (AP, AFP, Reuters)