Geert Wilders, the leader of the Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV) in the Netherlands, is facing a third “hate speech” trial sometime next year. His “offense” was to ask his supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands.
Below is a translated article and interview with Mr. Wilders from the print edition of today’s De Telegraaf.
Wilders awaits unfair trial
by Wouter de Winther and Ruud Mikkers
The Hague – PVV leader Geert Wilders awaits an unfair trial if he stands trial next year for stating that he wants “fewer Moroccans”. That is what his lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops says.
The lawyer is upset about the fact that the judge has allocated only 1 percent of the investigation requests of Wilders’ defense. “These include doing further research by experts. The defense has serious concerns about whether Mr. Wilders in his criminal case can adequately defend himself,” Knoops says in a statement.
“When all reasonable requests are rejected, they apparently want to convict me at all costs,” the PVV leader concludes. Wilders is expected to appear in court sometime in 2016.
“A correct picture of the context of the alleged statements of Mr. Wilders is essential,” says Knoops. “In order to present this picture to the judge, Wilders should get the chance to have the investigation he has asked for.” The lawyer says that Wilders is seriously harmed in his defense. “This way, Mr. Wilders does not get a fair trial.”
“The verdict seems to be ready’
PVV leader Wilders feels provoked. He says he will not get a fair chance to defend himself in the trial in which he is being sued for group insult and incitement to hatred and discrimination. Almost all his requests to call experts or to examine whether the declarations against him have been tampered with have been dismissed. He has appealed, because this way the chance of a fair trial would be reduced to nil.
What are the indications that suggest that you will not get a fair chance at a defense?
“I notice that the judicial authorities get more intransigent as we rise in the polls. At the first meetings, the magistrate still said to me, ‘You are entitled to a fair chance, the law will be interpreted broadly.’ But the opposite has happened. The magistrate uncritically follows the prosecutor. If all reasonable requests are rejected, then they apparently want to convict me at all costs.”
Why would Lady Justice suddenly take off her blindfold for Geert Wilders?
“For months, we have been working on the defense and therefore you suggest that further investigations be conducted. For example, about government ministers who already declared me guilty before the trial had begun, such as [Justice Minister] Opstelten. And we also want to know what has happened with all the pre-printed complaint forms. We have discovered that various forms have same signatures on them! We also want to hear experts, for example about the accusations of racism. A nationality is not a race, so how can I be guilty of racism? I am convinced that if today I ask “Do you want more or fewer Syrians,” no one would take offense at that, let alone that there would be complaints would be filed.”
But then we are dealing with refugees without a residence permit. Not Dutch citizens who have already been here for thirty or forty years.
“Yes, but I’m talking about the concept of nationality versus race. That is what everyone objected to, while I think that would now no longer be the case. If I would ask, ‘Do you want more or fewer Belgians, I do not believe that many people would feel offended. I want to hear the opinion of experts about this. I want to defend myself, but I must also be able to defend myself. The frustrating thing is that we have made 39 requests and zero have been granted. One of them has been kept in deliberation.”
During your previous trial, you made serious and less serious requests, you asked to hear Gaddafi or invite the Iranian president as a witness. What requests did you make this time?
“I have noticed that the director of a mosque made several complaints with different handwriting but the same signature. Hundreds of complaints were done on forms handed out in that mosque. About such matters I would want to hear the opinion of experts, because this cannot be allowed. I cannot give you all the names, because that information is not public. But, for example, Tom Zwart, professor at the University of Amsterdam, and Professor Paul Cliteur were willing to testify. But they have been rejected.”
What is behind all this?
“I do not know. But I have seen on television that there are people in the judiciary who say that PVV members cannot become judges. In the newspaper I read that the Public Prosecutor had already appointed two media judges even before the decision to prosecute had been taken. And as we rise in the polls, the rejections from the judicial authorities become more blunt and unfriendly. If this continues, then it seems as if the verdict has already been written. Then I at least will have to consider whether I still need to attend. Perhaps they should just rule in absentia. For me, it makes little sense to come. If this persists, it will be a political trial and a PVV-hate trial.”
Are you saying that the judiciary in the Netherlands is not independent?
“I want to talk about my case. If this persists, it will not be a fair trial. Obviously, I am also referring to the statement of that judge who said that PVV members should not be allowed to become judges. That is the atmosphere in which this is all happening.”
You are again seeking the role of the underdog, you and your PVV fighting the established order on your own. Is that not becoming a bit déjà-vu?
“I would rather not have been prosecuted, because I think I’ve done nothing wrong. I do not seek the role of the victim here, because I would rather have preferred that I could defend myself. But if all requests are rejected, then it is no use. Let them then quickly sentence me in absentia. I hope it does not come to that. Because it will be a circus.”
What consequences will a conviction have for you?
“I will always continue to say what I have to say. However, with the difference that I would only be able to express certain messages into the microphone in parliament. Because there I have immunity. If freedom of expression is curtailed, I can no longer express certain opinions anywhere.”
Virtually nowhere do you get what you want. But when you do think your trial will actually be fair?
“That depends on which requests are granted and in what way. Knoops also needs to have the impression that he can truly defend me. If such a person, the best criminal lawyer in the Netherlands, says it is not fair … that’s quite something. Knoops is not someone whom you can abuse politically.”
Given all the hassle afterwards, don’t you regret having made the statements about “fewer Moroccans”?
“I think an excuse to make it harder for the PVV will always be found. We are under more scrutiny than politicians of D66 or the Green Left because we are very outspoken. I understand that. We also oppose the establishment and do not mince our words. If you do that you do not make it easy for yourself.”
Ultimately, this trial is about the freedom of expression. You always draw the line very clearly at inciting violence, but should everything else be said?
“I think you should be able to say if you want fewer Mexicans or Syrians. That is not discriminatory and certainly no call to violence. I will always continue. Nothing will stop me to express my opinion. Not a hundred judges, not a thousand verdicts or fatwas will be able to change that.”
Can you imagine that Moroccan Dutch people feel excluded by such a fewer Moroccans statement?
“I do not really care what they feel or don’t feel. The point is whether it is illegal or not and I do not think that I have done anything wrong. If people feel hurt they should consult a psychologist or someone similar.”
Today or tomorrow you would as easily say “fewer, fewer, fewer Syrians”?
“I’m not saying I will do that, but if I were to say it, it would in my opinion no longer cause a lot of commotion.”
Yet you do not say it so explicitly today. Has this reluctance to do with the upcoming trial?
“We are calling for fewer Syrians, that’s absolutely true. But today or tomorrow, I will not be holding such a speech as last year. But if I did, and if I were to say it… then I think that nothing would happen. In America, any politician can advocate fewer Mexicans. No-one would object.”