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Dutch court orders 'hate trial' to go ahead over accused politician's objections

A panel of judges for the Amsterdam District Court on Wednesday ordered that the trial of right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders [personal website; JURIST news archive], on charges [prosecution materials, in Dutch] of making anti-Islamic statements, go ahead over his objections that the court was the improper venue for his case. Last month, the court granted Wilders the right to set out the objections [BBC report] he had made during the initial trial, which was postponed following the dismissal of the original panel of judges [JURIST report] amidst allegations of bias. However, this panel rejected Wilders' objections [AP report], ruling that the Amsterdam court has the authority to judge the case, given that the alleged statements, which constitute the offenses with which Wilders is charged, were committed within its jurisdiction. Wilders is alleged to have made inflammatory remarks against Islam. In one statement, he purportedly called the religion "fascist" and compared the Koran to Hitler's book Mein Kampf. While the court will allow prosecution to continue for any statements Wilders made likening Islam to Nazism, it dropped a complaint against him for referring to the Koran itself as "fascist," holding that prosecutors were precluded from including statements comparing Islam to fascism alone. Wilders maintains that his remarks were made as part of a legitimate political debate and are protected by his right to free speech. Wilders trial is scheduled to continue on April 13, with expectations for a verdict in June. He faces up to one year in prison, but it is more likely that he will be fined if found guilty.

The case against Wilders has suffered a number of setbacks. Prior to their dismissal, the original panel members heard the prosecution's case, which culminated in a request that Wilders be acquitted on all charges [JURIST report]. The prosecutors based their request on determinations that the politician's statements were directed at Islam and not Muslims themselves and additionally, that the evidence failed to establish that he intended to incite violence. The presentment of the prosecution's case followed an order from a panel of Dutch judges to resume the trial after initially rejecting claims of judicial bias [JURIST report]. The trial had previously been suspended [JURIST report] after a lawyer representing Wilders accused one of the judges of making a statement which cast him in an unfavorable light to the jury. Wilders has consistently been an outspoken opponent of immigration, especially that of Muslims, previously announcing [JURIST report] that he would support the current Dutch cabinet in exchange for promises to legislate a curtailment on immigration and a ban on the burqa [JURIST news archive] and other full Islamic veils.

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