Geert Wilders acquitted of hate charges by Dutch court
The controversial Dutch politician has avoided punishment for expressing his views on Islam. But his trials are far from over, Sander Zurhake
23 Jun 11

The controversial Dutch politician has avoided punishment for expressing his views on Islam. But his trials are far from over, writes Sander Zurhake

An Amsterdam court has acquitted Dutch politician Geert Wilders of criminal charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims. The plaintiffs however, have announced that their legal fight against Wilders is far from being over.

After the verdict, Wilders said “a burden dropped from his shoulders” and he called the decision of the judges “a victory for the freedom of speech”. The Amsterdam court explained in a clear statement that in its opinion the outspoken politician often walked the line of permissible rhetoric, but that his remarks remained nevertheless within the boundaries of the law.

Most political parties in the Netherlands have welcomed the acquittal. Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose minoritycabinet depends on political support from Wilders’ party in parliament, called the verdict “great news”. Even fierce political adversaries such the Green and Liberal Democratic parties have expressed their approval of today’s court decision and reaffirmed the importance of the freedom of speech in spite of their fundamental disagreements with Geert Wilders on the position of Islam in Dutch society.

It is unlikely that the prosecutor’s office will appeal the verdict. The prosecutor had been unwilling to pursue a criminal case against Wilders in the first place, but the plaintiffs — a combination of individuals and organisations that promotes rights of minorities in Holland — were able to force a prosecution through the Court of Appeal.

The prosecutor remained unconvinced by the evidence and demanded at the end of the actual case an acquittal for Wilders, which the court honoured today.

Although Geert Wilders was clearly victorious, his problems are not over. The persistence of the plaintiffs, demonstrated throughout this case, is likely to return to haunt him. One of the plaintiffs, Gerard Spong — a well-known lawyer in the Netherlands — said he was dismayed by the verdict and he intended to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Other plaintiffs represented by the lawyer Ties Prakken are considering the possibility of present their case in front of the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations. The Geert Wilders story, it appears, is to be continued.

Sander Zurhake writes on politics for a variety of Dutch publications including NRC Handelsblad, NRC Next and Algemeen Dagblad