Anti-Islam campaigner and MP Geert Wilders has been found not guilty of charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims and non-westerm immigrants by judges in Amsterdam.
The court ruled that some of Wilders’ statements were insulting, shocking and on the edge of legal acceptibility, but that they were made in the broad context of a political and social debate on the multi-cultural society.
Talk of a tsunami of Muslims is ‘blunt and humiliating’ but is ‘not subversive and does not incite to hatred or discrimination’, the court said. And Wilders’ 17- minute video compilation Fitna could lead to feelings of hatred, but Wilders himself had not generated this feeling, the court said.
In a reaction, Wilders said the verdict was a victory for freedom of speech. ‘You can criticise Islam. I have not been silenced,’ he said.
‘Sometimes I meant to be coarse and denigrating,’ he said. ‘In a political debate you must be able to say what you like.’
However, lawyer Gerard Spong, who was instrumental in getting the case heard, said he was disappointed because he feels Wilders did go too far with some of his statements.
‘The abusive language about Islam and the artificial distinction between Islam and Muslims have one effect: contributing to hatred of Muslims,’ he said. The judge’s ruling that such statements fall within the context of a broad debate are vague, Spong said, and raised the question ‘what is the context?’
Alexander Pechtold, leader of the D66 Liberal party, said the ruling could not be seen as a licence to incite hatred, even for politicians. And Christian Democrat parliamentary party leader Sybrand van Haersma Buma said the CDA is committed to debate on the basis of respect and decency and would continue to criticise Wilders if he is unnecessarily insulting.
Tilburg law professor Theo de Roos told news agency ANP the trial was a test case for prosecution on the basis of inciting hatred. ‘This trial shows you have to go very far before you can be found guilty. Only actual threats are no longer legally admissable,’ he said.
The case began on October 4 last year, but collapsed after three weeks when a special legal panel ruled the judges may have shown partiality following a string of legal blunders. New judges were then sworn in and the case was heard again this year.
The anti-racism groups which pressed the prosecution department to take the case to trial are now planning to take their complaint to the EU court of human rights and the UN, according to media reports.
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