A court in the Netherlands has found the far-right leader Geert Wilders guilty of discrimination and inciting hatred. The court ruled that racist remarks he had made about Moroccan people were unacceptable.
Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders will appeal a guilty verdict for inciting hatred before and after municipal polls in 2014. After a three-week trial, the court determined that, though guilty, the 53-year-old should not be punished.
"Three PVV-hating judges declare Moroccans a race and convict me and half of the Netherlands," Wilders wrote on Twitter following the verdict. "Madness."
Wilders denied the charges against him, insisting that he had fulfilled his duty as a Dutch lawmaker by making the insulting remarks against the Moroccan minority. A guilty verdict would have had no consequences for his position as a member of the Dutch parliament, and a conviction would also not rule him out for ministerial positions in the future.
"Whatever the verdict - acquittal or conviction - it will de facto change nothing," Wilders had said ahead of Friday's judgment.
During a speech in The Hague in the spring of 2014, Wilders asked supporters if they wanted "fewer or more Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands." He then led the chant for "fewer, fewer" members of the minority and added: "We're going to organize that." More than 6,000 people filed complaints after Wilders gave his speech.
A court had acquitted Wilders of similar charges in 2011. This time around, prosecutors said such "racist remarks need to be stopped" and asked judges to fine him 5,000 euros ($5,300). Throughout their case, prosecutors quoted numerous examples of Dutch-Moroccans who said they felt like "third-rate citizens" and that even "children are afraid" because of the politician's statements.
Wilders boycotted most of the trial, calling it a "disgrace" and choosing to defend himself on Twitter. He remained unapologetic in his single appearance in the dock, on the trial's final day, saying a guilty verdict would mean that "millions of Dutch citizens will be convicted with me."
"It is my right and my duty as a politician to speak about the problems in our country," Wilders said ahead of the verdict. He also accused prosecutors and opposition politicians of directing a "parliamentary process" against him before parliamentary elections in March.
The judgment could even give Wilders a boost ahead of the elections. Polls released before the verdict had put the PVV on pace for 34 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament - 10 ahead of the party's nearest rival, the Liberals, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Should the PVV become the dominant party, Wilders has vowed to confiscate Korans, close mosques and Islamic schools, shut the borders and ban immigration from countries with large Muslim populations, among a raft of other promises that target the religious minority.
mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)