Thursday, 23 June 2011

Geert Wilders acquitted of hate speech charges

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Geert Wilders
Geert Wilders, the controversial leader of the Netherlands' anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV), has this morning been acquitted of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims, following a legal process that began in 2009.

Wilders was tried on the basis of numerous statements he made in the media between 2006 and 2009, including comments in which he called Islam "fascist", likened the Qur'an to Mein Kampf, described Dutch youths of Moroccan origin as "violent" and suggested that Muslim immigration is transforming "the Netherlands into Netherabia as a province of the Islamic super state Eurabia". The summons also cites the March 2008 internet release of Wilders' short film Fitna, which juxtaposes violent acts of Islamic extremism with verses from the Qur'an.

A first trial collapsed in 2010 over claims that the judges were biased against Wilders, and the second trial began in February this year. Announcing the acquittal in Amsterdam this morning, Judge Marcel van Oosten told Wilders that, while his comments were "gross and degenerating", they "did not give rise to hatred" and fell within the boundaries of free speech. "You are being acquitted on all the charges that were put against you," said Van Oosten. "The bench finds that your statements are acceptable within the context of the public debate." Referring to Fitna, Van Oosten added “You have spoken in a hurtful and also shocking way, [but] the court finds, in the broadest context, that you have to be able to propagate the message of such a film.”

Speaking outside the court, Wilders' declared his acquittal a "victory" for free speech:
"I'm incredibly happy with this acquittal on all counts. It's not only an acquittal for me, but a victory for freedom of expression in the Netherlands. Fortunately you're allowed to discuss Islam in public debate and you're not muzzled in public debate. An enormous burden has fallen from my shoulders."
Interested to hear your views on this story, so please do share in the comments. In the context of the court case, I would have to say I agree with the acquittal and share Wilders' view that it is good for free speech. I've never been comfortable with Wilders' status as a free speech martyr but, whatever your views on what he has to say (and I disagree with the man profoundly), arguments such as his should be confronted in debate, not in the court room.

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