In an ugly, squat building Geert Wilders’ trial on hate speech began on Monday.
A gallery packed with press at Schiphol airport’s secure court heard the ‘facts’ behind accusations that the far-right wing leader of the PVV incited hatred and racial discrimination towards Moroccans.
But the three judges will have to guess at his motivation from witness statements because – as the politician told the AD newspaper last Friday – he is boycotting his own trial.
Wilders is being tried for two incidents during a local election campaign in The Hague in 2014. On March 12, he told the NOS broadcaster that people were voting ‘for a safer, more social city with less trouble and if possible, fewer Moroccans.’ A week later, he asked the audience at a party rally whether they wanted fewer Moroccans, then added: ‘Then we will arrange this.’
But the court heard evidence that these answers were prearranged, with two PVV party members admitting that they seeded the reply ‘fewer, fewer’ through the crowd in advance.
‘Was the question prepared so it was picked up by the media?’ asked one of the three judges. ‘We want to know [Wilders’] role in this, whether it was prepared, and why he asked for more or less of the EU, PvdA [labour party] and Moroccans, and why in this order?’
The court saw two videos of the incidents for which Wilders is accused of hate speech, then heard some extracts from the 6,474 complaints made to police, with 35 complainants subsequently interviewed in person.
Some complaints were denied by people who said box-loads of forms were brought to mosques and they were asked to sign. ‘There were forms lying in the mosque,’ said one. ‘I cannot read. I just put a signature on it to say we didn’t agree with Wilders – a sort of election.’ Others admitted they had not heard the speeches from Wilders.
But some did not feel ‘safe on the street’ and said their children were bullied and confused following the widely-reported speech and interview. ‘I thought such things couldn’t be said in the Netherlands,’ said a policewoman who complained. ‘I thought politicians would stick to the law that everyone is alike and should be treated as such.’
The court also heard reports from three experts on the situation regarding radical Islam in the Netherlands, crime levels and social status of Moroccan people. Criminology professor James Unnever’s report said ‘studies show no clear conclusion that ethnic groups are more likely to be criminal’ but claimed there is evidence of racial profiling by the police and ‘institutional discrimination.’
Wilders faces a possible jail term, but commentators suggest it is more likely that if convicted, he would receive a fine or community service. A criminal conviction would not stop him standing in general elections in March 2017.
According to Wilders, whose far-right PVV has recently slipped in the polls, the trial is ‘a travesty’. He claimed – in a letter read out by his lawyer – that ‘the Netherlands has an enormous Moroccan problem….If talking about it is a criminal offence, then the Netherlands is no longer a free country but a dictatorship.’
Commenting on his absence, one judge said: ‘We wonder why this is.’
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