Dutch court acquits politician of defaming Muslims

Geert Wilders' film sparked street protests in Indonesia, Pakistan and Malaysia
Dutch Freedom Party Leader Geert Wilders
By Reuters
Thu 23 Jun 2011 12:50 PM

Dutch
Freedom Party Leader Geert Wilders was acquitted by a court of charges that he
made remarks defaming Muslims, ending a three-year prosecution that he
described as a bid to restrict his freedom of speech.

Wilders,
47, was charged with inciting hatred and discrimination and insulting Muslims
for calling the Koran “fascist” and comparing it to Adolf Hitler’s book “Mein
Kampf” in a 2007 Dutch newspaper editorial. A year later, he released his movie
“Fitna,” in which he urged Muslims to rip out “hate-preaching” verses from the
book.

“You
have spoken in a hurtful and also shocking way,” Presiding Judge Marcel van
Oosten said in the Amsterdam district court Thursday. Even so, “the court
finds, in the broadest context, that you have to be able to propagate the
message of such a film.”

The
movie led to protests in Islamic-majority countries including Indonesia and
Pakistan and prompted Malaysians to call for a boycott of products from the
euro area’s second largest exporter.

Wilders,
whose party backs the minority Dutch coalition government, has been under
constant police protection since a Muslim radical murdered filmmaker Theo van
Gogh in 2004.

Prosecutors,
who were forced to file charges against Wilders by a higher court, also called
for the politician to be cleared, saying his criticism was aimed at Islam as a
religion and not at Muslims.

The
minority government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals and Christian
Democrats relies on Wilders’s Freedom Party to pass legislation. It plans to
cut immigration, a key issue for Wilders’s party, which more than doubled its
representation in parliament in last year’s elections and is now the third
largest group of the 10 in the lower chamber.

The
Netherlands has about 850,000 Muslims, according to Dutch statistics bureau
2006 data. Most are of Turkish or Moroccan origin. The country’s population is
16.7 million.

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