x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Dutch court clears anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders of inciting hatred

Wilders compared the Quran with Hitler's Mein Kampf while in a film he used shocking images of the 9/11 attacks in the United States and other onslaughts against western targets interspersed with verses from the Muslim holy book.

AMSTERDAM // The Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders walked away from hate speech and discrimination charges yesterday for statements made attacking Islam, calling his acquittal a victory for freedom of speech.

"You are being acquitted on all the charges that were put against you," Judge Marcel van Oosten told Mr Wilders, who has been on trial in the Amsterdam regional court since October last year.

The flamboyant member of parliament faced five counts of hate speech and discrimination for his anti-Islamic remarks on websites, internet forums and in Dutch newspapers between October 2006 and March 2008, and in his controversial 17-minute movie Fitna.

He also compared the Quran with Hitler's Mein Kampf while in Fitna he used shocking images of the September 11 attacks in the United States and other onslaughts against western targets interspersed with verses from the Muslim holy book.

"The bench finds that your statements are acceptable within the context of the public debate," the judge told the platinum-haired politician, whose case was boosted by a prosecution unwilling to take aim at him.

"The bench finds that although gross and denigrating, it did not give rise to hatred," said Judge van Oosten.

The Mr Wilders, 47, whose right-wing Party for Freedom lends its support to the right-leaning Dutch coalition government, told journalists afterwards he was "overjoyed and very happy" to have been acquitted.

"It is not only a victory for me but also a victory for freedom of speech," he said outside the courtroom.

He added: "It means it is legal to criticise Islam."

One of Europe's most heavily guarded politicians, Mr Wilders told the court he was "obliged to speak" because The Netherlands is "under threat" from Islam.

A lawyer representing plaintiffs in the case said they were disappointed by its outcome.