Mike Corder, AP, March 18, 2016
In a case that will test the limits of Dutch freedom of expression, firebrand lawmaker Geert Wilders appeared in court Friday for the first public hearing in a hate speech prosecution.
The pretrial hearing at a tightly guarded courtroom on the edge of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport comes with Wilders’ anti-Islam Freedom Party standing atop opinion polls a year ahead of Dutch parliamentary elections and with anti-immigrant sentiment rising across Europe.
Wilders’ defense lawyer, Geert-Jan Knoops, said freedom of expression is “the last freedom Mr. Wilders has left.” The lawmaker has lived with around-the clock protection for more than a decade because of repeated death threats.
The case against Wilders, who was acquitted in 2011 of insulting Islam, centers on comments made before and after 2014 local elections. At one party meeting he asked supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands, drawing them into the chant of “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!”
“We’ll take care of it,” he replied.
A small group of supporters of the anti-immigrant Pegida group demonstrated outside the hearing in support of Wilders, one of them wearing a T-shirt and jacket emblazoned with the text “Wilders for President.” The Netherlands, a constitutional monarchy, does not have a president.
Wilders’ trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 31.