The kangaroo-court trial of Geert Wilders, the leader of the Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV) in The Netherlands, begins tomorrow with a procedural session.
As has been previously reported, most of the complaints against Mr. Wilders were filed on pre-printed forms that had been handed out to people. Some of the complainants were invited by the police to fill out the form.
To an American observer, it seems very strange that Mr. Wilders was denied the right to interview all the complainants — he was only allowed to interview a selected group comprising about one-quarter of one percent of those who had filed complaints. This would be contrary to the cherished American right (based in English Common Law) to confront one’s accusers.
But The Netherlands is a strange country. They do things differently there.
Last Saturday, March 12, 2016, De Telegraaf, the largest newspaper, published an article stating that there have been irregularities with several legal complaints lodged against Mr. Wilders.
Below is a translated version of the article in De Telegraaf. Also included is an excerpt from an interview with Göran Sluiter, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in the newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (print edition) from Wednesday March 16, 2016. In the interview Mr Sluiter announces that he will claim damages for the plaintiffs:
De Telegraaf, March 12, 2016
Plaintiffs: Wilders often had no idea what they signed
“I thought we were voting”
The charges [against Wilders] were often pressed by ignorant, non-Dutch-speaking and sometimes even illiterate elderly immigrants who had no idea what they were doing. De Telegraaf has had access to the records.
One of the reasons that the Public Prosecutor indicted Wilders was that 6,400 charges had been pressed against him, as well as 15,000 reports of discrimination.
Next Friday these complaints will be discussed when Geert Wilders appears in court for the first time in the second trial against him. It is a procedural session, where the procedure of the trial will be discussed. In the Autumn, the actual trial begins. Wilders’ lawyer is Geert-Jan Knoops.
In recent months interviews were conducted, in which the defense, the prosecutor and the magistrate questioned people who had lodged complaints. Initially, Knoops tried to investigate the motives of all 6,400 plaintiffs. This was refused by the judge. After much pleading, the defense was given the opportunity to select fifteen plaintiffs whom they could hear under oath. This newspaper refers to the anonymous witnesses as B, C, D, F, and G.
“We are Muslims and we speak the truth,” said witness ‘B’ at the start of his interrogation. He stated that he thought that elections were being organized and that he was asked to vote for or against Wilders. “There were several places where you could vote, and one of these places was the mosque on the Fruitweg, the As-Sunnah mosque,” he says, referring to the Muslim prayer center in the Schilderswijk in The Hague. “I have been asked to cast my vote about Wilders, at least if that is his name.”
This was asked in the mosque by people “who came from outside,” as well as by visitors to the mosque. He would rather not mention any names. “Maybe, this might lead to quarrels later, because they might ask me: why have you done this, why have you mentioned our names?” The fact that his declaration turned out to be a complaint, which was one of the reasons why Wilders has to appear in court, surprises ‘B’: “What for? Why should he appear in court? I do not know.”
Witness “C” stated in his complaint that he felt discriminated against. The interrogation reveals that this is not true. “I did not feel discriminated against, I just did not want any fitna, any riot. I do think that he is allowed to say whatever he wants, but we should also be allowed to say what we want.”
While walking in the market square, a complaint form was put into his hands and a person unknown to him said: “This form, this is against Wilders and must be filled in.” That was quite a challenge, because “C” is illiterate.
Witness ‘D’ was given a complaint form in the As-Sunnah mosque. Somebody else filled in the document for him, he explains. “If you wanted to press charges he helped to fill it in. Several people did this.”
The interrogation takes a remarkable turn when suddenly a lawyer on behalf of ‘D’ appears. The lawyer has probably been sent by the As-Sunnah mosque, without the witness’ understanding what the counsel is coming to do. The lawyer is, therefore, dismissed. Some assistance to ‘D’, however, would not have been out of place: he told the magistrate that Wilders “obviously is a president.” All he contributed to the pressing of charges was his signature.
‘D’ claims to have heard that via the As-Sunnah mosque as many as 1,200 people pressed charges against Wilders. “Every Friday, there are more than 2,000 people who come to pray in the mosque,” he explains. “I saw it as an election, there was going to be a count and they were going to see who would go up and who would go down.”
One interrogation seems to confirm rumors about the special involvement of some government officials in organizing the legal complaints against Wilders. Witness “F” says that he, together with about 40 people, went to the police in Delft to “protest” against Wilders, not to press charges. “We were told that they, too, felt uncomfortable because of what he had said.”
The police are said to have completed the complaint form. What the police officer wrote on the papers, the plaintiff does not know; he is illiterate, and the officer did not read it out to him. “I was told to sign the document.” An interpreter was not present. According to “F”, the translation was done, among others, by a councilor for the Labor Party (PvdA).
In Tilburg as well, the police actively interfered with the complaints, says witness ‘G’. “The police helped to fill in the forms.” This happened at the Al Fatah mosque in the provincial town where “everyone” is said to have pressed charges. “The directors [of the mosque] told us that the police would come and that the intention was to fill in a complaint form.”
A number of interrogations have yet to take place. It is therefore quite possible that some testimonies will reveal that there were people who indeed knew what they were doing. In any case, there have been people in the media declaring that they had consciously pressed charges.
What is striking from the statements which this newspaper has seen, however, is that those who pressed charges had often been told by friends, family or visitors of the mosque about Wilders’ statements, without having themselves taken note of them. In addition, there was also fear of unrest or expulsion. “We have lived here for fifty years and we just want to be left in peace,” witness ‘C’ said. “We were confronted with children who came home crying and said they had to leave the country,” witness ‘G’ said.
It is not clear whether the grounds for prosecution will collapse if a significant number of the complaints appear to be wrong. A criminal offense constitutes a criminal offense, if Wilders’ call for “fewer Moroccans” is defined as such. The defense did not wish to comment on this specific point to this newspaper.
Wilders says he finds the testimonies “incredibly shocking.” “There appears to be something wrong with more than half of the plaintiffs who have been heard. People did not even know they were pressing charges or they thought that they were just going to vote. These are fake complaints.”
Algemeen Dagblad, March 16, 2016
Excerpts from an interview with Göran Sluiter, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the upcoming Wilders trial:
Full of confidence, he looks forward to the Wilders trial. Göran Sluiter, lawyer for the plaintiffs in the “fewer Moroccans” case. “My clients have been lying awake because of the statements by Wilders.”
Why do your clients claim damages from Wilders?
“It is a civil claim that is ‘free riding’ on the criminal case. If Wilders is convicted, then the victims with direct damage caused by his criminal acts are entitled to compensation. That is the law. There are no large sums involved, the jurisprudence in cases of discrimination refers to 100 or 200 euros. Look, these people have suffered damages because of Wilders’ statements. They have worried after those statements, they had symptoms of depression, they were lying awake, wondering: will there still a place for me in the Netherlands in the near future? They feel that Wilders had caused all this worrying. And so do I.”