Our Flemish correspondent VH has translated an interview with Afshin Ellian, who will be called as a witness in the Wilders trial by Bram Moszkovicz:
“If you cannot say that the Islam is a backward religion and that Muhammad is a criminal, then you are living in an Islamic country, my friend…”
Metro: Interview with Law Professor Afshin Ellian.
The trial against Geert Wilders has begun. The PVV leader will prosecuted for incitement to hatred, discrimination, and insulting Muslims. The trial makes Law Professor Afshin Ellian think of the judicial process in dictatorships like Iran, the country Ellian had to flee from on his seventeenth birthday because of his political views. “No matter what, Wilders will be the winner of this trial.”
Geert Wilders calls his prosecution a political process. Does he have a point here?
“This process has the appearance of a political process. I say: the appearance, because in reality the Public Prosecutor does not do politics.”
A political trial suggests influencing by politics. Where do you see that?
“This is a limited interpretation of the term. A political trial means that someone is persecuted for his political views. This is the case here. Moreover, the Public Prosecutor’s office is part of the Ministry of Justice. It receives instructions from the minister.”
But the judiciary is independent.
“That is a typical argument of a lawyer: Wilders may be acquitted. Now, going to court is daily matter for lawyers, but quite a load for a citizen: you must go there, you must inform yourself, in short: it takes time. For a parliamentarian this means that he cannot properly perform his normal duties.”
It is said of Wilders that he will only benefit from this trial. What do you think?
“I think Wilders will certainly benefit of this process. But we cannot blame him: he has not prosecuted himself.”
Who else will gain advantage from it?
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“All Islamic countries who want Wilders to be prosecuted, from Saudi Arabia to Jordan. These countries really do talk with our minister of foreign affairs [Maxime Verhagen, CDA, Christian Democrat]. Why do you think it’s so quiet all of a sudden in Jordan?”
Wilders is not prosecuted for his opinions, but because his statements would be discriminatory to Muslims. Discrimination is not allowed, and that is in the law.
“That discrimination legislation itself leads to discrimination, because it makes a distinction between sacred opinions and ordinary opinions. With ordinary opinions you have a greater risk of being sentenced than over sacred opinions.
“Another consequence of the discrimination legislation is that we encourage fundamentalists in and outside of the Netherlands. This is very dangerous for our national security. The legislation also provides legal uncertainty: Gerrit Zalm [former Finance Minister, VVD] and Pim Fortuyn were not prosecuted when they say that the Netherlands is full, but Hans Janmaat [anti-multicultural party of the 80’s] and Geert Wilders have been. Whether or not something is or is not prosecuted depends on political forces and moods. Just look at Janmaat: he nowadays would not be prosecuted at all. One would find him to be but a softie.”
Exactly: politicians can say much more today than before. Apparently, the Prosecutor finds that the frankness is overshooting and seeks to put a brake on it.
“The public Prosecutor [OM, Openbaar Ministerie] does not want to put a brake on it. The Amsterdam Court wanted to do so. That court said: the OM should prosecute Wilders because he is polarizing. To my knowledge, polarizing is not a crime. That court should have delivered a short, businesslike instruction to provide reasons why the OM should prosecute Wilders. Instead, that court came up with a comprehensive, substantive elucidation. The court has long since sentenced Wilders. This is quite malicious.”
You said that the Wilders Trial reminds you of justice in your country of origin, Iran. Is that not somewhat exaggerated?
“The Netherlands, of course, is not comparable with Iran, it is but about the experience. If you cannot say that the Islam is a backward religion and that Muhammad is a criminal, then you are living in an Islamic country, my friend, because there you also cannot say such things. I may say Christ was a f** and Mary was a w****, but apparently I should stay off of Muhammad.”
Should we, according to you, abolish discrimination laws?
“We should at least severely review them. The limit to me is incitement to violence, for instance when someone says all Muslims should be driven into the sea. But even then still you should refer to criminal law as a last resort. It is still strange that a comedian can say all what a parliamentarian is not allowed to.”
A parliamentarian is supposed to have more responsibility.
“Nonsense. Whoever says that only seeks to silence someone. Wilders has only one single responsibility, and that is to act on behalf of the people who elected him. It might be different if there were riots in Amsterdam and Wilders were to make radical statements over the radio. Then you’re doing unwise things.”
Unwise, but also punishable?
“Only if you directly call for violence. That is called sedition, and is and remains punishable. Luckily so. But Wilders does not incite violence.”
Is this process any good?
“It will in any event not prevent people from insulting the Islam, even if Wilders is convicted on some points. Everyone now is challenged to seek the limits of freedom of expression. That’s going to be the next national sport. This is in any case an important trial, at present the most important trial in Europe. Everywhere the limits of freedom of speech are being questioned. Everywhere various Muslim interest groups are after writers [and cartoonists]. That a politician who is so high in the polls, a politician who is severely threatened and heavily protected and who is twice prosecuted — by al-Qaida and the Dutch state — something like that does attract attention. One thing is certain: Wilders will nevertheless be the winner of this trial.”
Afshin Ellian was born February 17, 1966 in Tehran, Iran. In 1983 he fled the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. He had studied medicine in Kabul an came to the Netherlands in 1989, where he studied criminal law, constitutional law, and philosophy. At present he is a professor of law, a poet, a columnist (Elsevier, NRC Handelsblad), and a professor of citizenship, social cohesion and multiculturalism at the University of Leiden.