Friday, December 9, 2016

Geert Wilders Earns His Scarlet Letter

from the NY Times
AMSTERDAM — Geert Wilders, the far-right politician who is seen as a likely contender to become prime minister when Dutch voters go to the polls next year, was convicted on Friday of inciting discrimination and of insulting a group for saying that the Netherlands would be safer with fewer Moroccans.

The three-member judiciary panel found that Mr. Wilders, the leader of the Party for Freedom, had violated Dutch law for remarks he made on March 19, 2014, around the time of municipal elections in The Hague, but it elected not to convict him of inciting hatred and rejected the prosecutors’ request to fine him 5,000 euros, or about $5,300.

Mr. Wilders was found not guilty of hate-speech charges in connection with comments he made about Moroccans in a nationally broadcast TV program filmed at a public market a week earlier, but he was found to have violated laws on inciting discrimination when he led a crowd at a political rally in chanting “fewer, fewer” to the question, “Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this city and in the Netherlands?”

Mr. Wilders, whose defense team said he would appeal the decision next week, was not present when the verdict was read by the chief judge, Hendrik Steenhuis, at a secured courtroom on a military base near Schiphol Airport, outside Amsterdam.

The site was chosen to protect Mr. Wilders, who has been under constant guard because of death threats related to a long history of inflammatory comments, as well as the judge and prosecutors.

“The most important thing is that he is found guilty of group insult and inciting discrimination,” said a spokesman for the public prosecution service, Frans Zonneveld. “For now, we’re very satisfied that he has been found guilty of these two charges.”

In their ruling, the judges said that Mr. Wilders’s comments at the rally had contributed to the further polarization of Dutch society, and that mutual respect was imperative in the “pluralistic” Netherlands.

“He said that he was supported by millions of people and therefore was not to blame of offending a group,” Judge Steenhuis said. “It’s important to answer the question of whether he was guilty of this. That question is answered in our court system. We state that you cannot offend groups of people and discriminate against them.”

Mr. Wilders received no punishment.

Mr. Wilders, who has taken a page out of President-elect Donald J. Trump’s playbook and adopted the campaign slogan “Make the Netherlands Great Again,” has repeatedly made vitriolic and inflammatory remarks about Islam, the Quran, immigrants and Dutch minority groups. Since the election of Mr. Trump, the Party for Freedom has been surging in the polls.

“Three PVV hating judges declare that Moroccans are a race and convict me and half of the Netherlands,” Mr. Wilders said on Twitter almost immediately after the verdict was announced, using the Dutch acronym for his party. “Madness.”

Peter Kanne, a pollster with I&O Research, an independent Dutch polling organization, said the most recent data, released on Nov. 25, indicated that the Party for Freedom had gained support and was currently about even with the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, the liberal party.

“What you see is that the trial of Geert Wilders is working to his benefit,” Mr. Kanne said by telephone on Thursday. “I don’t know if this will be a long-term effect, and we can’t tell if it will still be this way in one or two months.”

Those I&O Research interviewed about their support for the Party for Freedom said that Mr. Wilders’s trial was one of several topical factors that might influence their vote.

“A lot of people mentioned that they’re really getting angry that he is being accused and judged only for what he said,” Mr. Kanne said. “They think that he said something that is true, and they’re very angry that a politician cannot say that in a society where there is freedom of speech.”

Just before the official court proceedings began on Oct. 31, Mr. Wilders said on his blog that he would boycott what he called “a travesty” against freedom of speech.

He changed his mind, however, and appeared in court on Nov. 23 to testify during the defense’s closing arguments. Regardless of the verdict, he said, “no one will be able to silence me,” after describing how he has lived with constant protection since 2004 because he fears for his life.

“I need to use the only freedom that I still have to protect our country against Islam and against terrorism,” he continued, in remarks that were delivered in Dutch and published in full in English on his website. “Against immigration from Islamic countries. Against the huge problem with Moroccans in the Netherlands. I cannot remain silent about it; I have to speak out. That is my duty, I have to address it, I must warn for it, I have to propose solutions for it.”

Mr. Wilders said he could not be found guilty of racism, arguing that Moroccans were not a race. “Not a single nationality is a race,” he said. “Belgians are no race, Americans are no race. Stop this nonsense, I say to the public prosecutor. I am not a racist, and my voters are neither.”

In their ruling, the judges said that Mr. Wilders had “in a manner that was clear and explicit to everyone, identified a group of fellow citizens by referring to their common origin. He used their nationality as ethnic designation.”

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