The court at Schiphol handed down a verdict today against Geert Wilders, the leader of the Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV) in the Netherlands. As expected, Mr. Wilders was found guilty of “hate speech” for asking his supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands. The defendant declined to appear in court for the reading of the verdict.
The interesting thing about the judgment is that the court decided not to fine Mr. Wilders, saying that his conviction was punishment enough. More than anything, that aspect of the verdict highlights the political nature of the trial — by not imposing any punishment, the judges removed as much fuel for martyrdom from the verdict as they could.
And since Mr. Wilders’ political fortunes will not suffer from this farrago of “justice” — his popularity may well be enhanced — the real weight of the judgment will felt by his colleagues in the PVV, and by ordinary Dutch citizens, who have now been clearly shown that they have no right to free speech in their country if what they say might offend Moroccans.
The judge said: “Freedom of speech can be limited, for example to protect the rights and freedoms of others, and that is what this case is about.” In other words, a new legal right has been granted to Moroccans. Practically speaking, the court established a clear legal precedent that guarantees a Moroccan the right never to be insulted while he is in the Netherlands.
The following video is the English-language statement issued by Geert Wilders in reaction to his conviction:
Below is the report on the verdict from Fox News:
Prime Minister Candidate Wilders Guilty of Hate Speech, Dutch Court Rules
A Dutch court convicted populist lawmaker Geert Wilders — who is running to be prime minister — of hate speech Friday, at the end of a trial he branded a politically motivated “charade” that endangered freedom of speech.
Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said the court would not impose a sentence because the conviction was punishment enough for a democratically elected lawmaker. Prosecutors had asked judges to fine him $5,300.
The politically charged prosecution centered on comments Wilders made before and after the Dutch municipal elections in 2014. At one meeting in a Hague cafe, he asked supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands. That sparked a chant of “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” — to which he replied, “we’ll take care of it.”
Prosecutors say that Wilders, who in 2011 was acquitted at another hate speech trial for his outspoken criticism of Islam, overstepped the limits of free speech by specifically targeting Moroccans.
On Friday, he was convicted for the interaction with the crowd of supporters in the Hague cafe, which judges said was carefully orchestrated and broadcast on national television. He was acquitted for similar comments he made in a radio interview a week earlier.
In a tweet, Wilders called the verdicts “madness” and said that he had been convicted by three judges who hated his Party for Freedom.
Wilders was not in court for the verdict that came just over three months before national elections. Wilders’ party is currently narrowly leading a nationwide poll of polls and has risen in popularity during the trial.
Even before the hearing, Wilders vowed not to let a conviction muzzle him.
“Whatever the verdict, I will continue to speak the truth about the Moroccan problem, and no judge, politician or terrorist will stop me,” he tweeted shortly before the verdict.
He had denied the charges and insisted he was performing his duty as a political leader by pointing out a problem in society.
Before declaring Wilders guilty, Steenhuis stressed that freedom of speech was not on trial as Wilders had claimed during the case.
“Freedom of speech is one of the foundations of our democratic society,” the judge said. But he added: “Freedom of speech can be limited, for example to protect the rights and freedoms of others, and that is what this case is about.”