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Dutch court rejects bias claim in hate speech case, orders trial to continue

An Amsterdam court on Monday rejected claims by Dutch politician Geert Wilders [personal website; JURIST news archive] that the hate speech charges [prosecution materials, in Dutch] against him should be dropped over claims of bias. Wilder, a right-wing politician, is on trial for making anti-Islamic statements. The charges against Wilders were dismissed in 2008, but an appeals court reversed that decision. Wilders claims that one of the judges had tried to convince [AFP report] the defense's expert witness to support the claims at a 2010 dinner party. He argues that the charges should be dropped because this shows bias and that it is no longer possible for him to have a fair trial. But the court found that there was not enough evidence to conclude that the judge ever tried to influence the witness. 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. He faces up to one year in prison, but it is more likely that he will be fined if found guilty.

In March, an Amsterdam court rejected Wilders' claims of improper venue, ruling that the Amsterdam court has the authority to judge the case, given that the alleged statements were committed within its jurisdiction. In February, 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. 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.

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