Dutch anti-Islam MP claims persecution
The Hague - Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders claimed on Monday he was being persecuted for his views, asking an Amsterdam court to protect free speech and disallow his hate speech trial.
"Citizens who criticise Islam pay a bitter price. They are threatened, persecuted, criminalised," the politician told a panel of judges at a hearing to plan the modalities of his new trial.
"Who speaks the truth is in danger," said the MP who calls Islam "fascist", has likened the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf and is under 24-hour protection following death threats.
Wilder's trial for inciting hatred against Muslims was interrupted last October when the judges trying him were ordered to step down by a panel of their peers who upheld the politician's bias claims.
No new trial date has been set.
Wilders' lawyer, Bram Moszkowicz, asked the court on Monday for permission to file a so-called preliminary plea to challenge the validity of his prosecution. If successful, it would cancel a new trial.
Wilders, 47, faces five counts of giving offence to Muslims and of inciting hatred against Muslims and people of non-Western immigrant origin, particularly Moroccans.
He told the court on Monday that Islam was a "totalitarian ideology" that could "only yield societies that are backward and pauperised".
"I hope that freedom of expression will triumph," the politician said.
Wilders, whose Party for Freedom gives parliamentary support to a right leaning coalition, risks up to a year in jail or a €7 600 fine for comments made in his campaign to "stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands".
Prosecutors, who initially dismissed dozens of complaints against him in June 2008, told the court last October that Wilders' statements, though hurtful, were not criminal, and sought his acquittal.
Appeals judges in January 2009 ordered that Wilders be put on trial as his utterances amounted to "sowing hatred" - compelling an unwilling prosecution to mount a case against him.