Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders is appealing a conviction for encouraging discrimination against Moroccans. The staunch Islam critic claims that prosecutors are taking away his right to free speech.
The leader of the Dutch opposition Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders, began his appeal against a conviction for inciting discrimination on Thursday.
Wilders' lawyer requested that the proceedings be delayed until prosecutors released information about that case, but prosecutor Gerard Sta told judges there was no reason to delay the appeal.
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"This case is about two words: 'fewer' and 'Moroccans,'" Sta said. "There's no question as to whether the suspect said them, there's only the question of how they should be explained."
In December 2016, judges found Wilders guilty of discrimination against Moroccans during a 2014 election rally, when he asked supporters if they wanted "fewer or more Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands."
When the crowd chanted "Fewer! Fewer!" he replied with: "We're going to take care of that."
Some 6,400 people, including many Moroccan immigrants, lodged formal complaints about his comments.
The judges ruled in 2016 that because of "the inflammatory nature in which the statements were made, others were encouraged to discriminate against people of Moroccan origin."
'Freedom of speech is under attack'
Wilders, who is strongly against Islamic influence in Europe, has accused prosecutors of attempting to constrain his right to free speech.
"What the Islamists haven't been able to do to me, the prosecutors are trying to do anyway: destroy freedom of expression," Wilders wrote on Twitter before Thursday's hearing, which is being held in a special high-security courtroom near Amsterdam's Schipol airport.
Wilders also tweeted that "Freedom of speech is under attack, especially for Islam critics. We may never accept that," accompanied by a cartoon depicting himself standing outside a cell, watching an angry turban-wearing man inside.
Wilders' lawyer, Geert-Jan Knoops, argued at the start of proceedings that the criteria determining whether speech was discriminatory were hazy and had been "selectively applied" against Wilders.
To support his argument, he noted that prosecutors did not press charges against Wilders' biggest domestic political rival, Alexander Pechtold of the centrist D66 Party, over a remark earlier this year that was possibly insulting to Russians.
Prosecutors are also appealing against Wilders' acquittal over separate charges of inciting hatred and are asking for a fine of €5,000 ($5,900) but no jail time.
law/msh (AFP, Reuters)