By Mariette le Roux (AFP) – Oct 15, 2010
AMSTERDAM — Dutch prosecutors sought anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders's acquittal on hate speech charges Friday, saying his criticism of the Muslim religion, though hurtful to some, was not criminal.
"Criticism (of religion) is allowed," prosecutor Birgit van Roessel told the Amsterdam district court, adding that Wilders' statements were made in the context of public debate and hence not punishable.
The politician, who went on trial on October 4 for calling Islam "fascist" and likening the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf", was defiant in welcoming the prosecution's approach.
"I do not discriminate. I do not spread hatred. I do not commit group discrimination. All I did and will continue doing is to speak the truth," the 47-year-old Wilders told journalists outside the courtroom.
In June 2008, the Dutch prosecution service dismissed dozens of complaints against the politician from individuals around the country, citing his right to freedom of speech.
But appeals judges ordered in January 2009 that he stand trial as his utterances amounted to "sowing hatred" -- compelling the prosecution to mount a case against him.
"Wilders makes his utterances as a politician," Van Roessel told the court on Friday. "We believe the fact that he made his statements within the context of public debate removes any punishable element."
While Wilders' call for banning the Koran and other such statements may very well be "hurtful" to Muslims, she said, "the wounding of feelings, religious feelings, plays no role" in the trial.
On Tuesday, prosecutors sought Wilders's acquittal of the first of five charges against him -- giving offence to Muslims, and asked judges not to award damages to his accusers.
On Friday, they also asked for him to be cleared of the remaining four charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims and people of non-Western immigrant origin, particularly Moroccans.
Van Roessel argued that criticism of religion could never be punishable unless it incited people to hatred of the followers of that religion, which Wilders' statements did not do.
Wilders is a shadow partner of the new, rightist coalition government inaugurated on Thursday.
The controversial politician with his signature shock of dyed-blonde hair, risks up to a year in jail or a 7,600-euro fine for comments made between October 2006 and March 2008 in Dutch newspapers and on Internet forums.
Among the exhibits is Wilders's 17-minute film, "Fitna", alleged to depict Islam as a force bent on destroying the West and whose screening in the Netherlands in 2008 prompted protests in much of the Muslim world.
The target of death threats, Wilders enjoys 24-hour state-sponsored protection while pursuing his mission to "stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands".
He campaigns for a stop to Muslim immigration, a ban on the construction of new mosques, and a tax on headscarves.
Wilders was temporarily banned from Britain last year on race hate grounds.
His Party for Freedom has signed a pact to provide a minority cabinet of the Christian Democrats and liberals with the votes they need in parliament in return for a voice in policy formation.
Wilders' accusers will make their case in court on Monday, followed by his defence starting on Tuesday.
Judgment is expected on November 5.
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