AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch prosecutors Tuesday asked a court trying anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders, the kingmaker in moves to form a new coalition government, to drop a charge that he insulted Muslims as a group.
Wilders will still face charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims even if the court agrees to drop the charge that he insulted Muslims by comparing the Islamic faith to Nazism.
The prosecution was wrapping up part of its case against Wilders and will present its final sentencing plea Friday.
Following inconclusive June elections and months of coalition talks, a new centre-right minority government made of the Liberals and Christian Democrats, reliant on support from Wilders’ Freedom Party, is expected to be sworn in Thursday.
To secure his support, the two mainstream parties have agreed to a ban on the face-covering burqa veil and tighter restrictions on immigration.
The prosecution said that although the comments Wilders made about the Muslim religion were offensive, they were not illegal.
“The comments by Wilders were directed against the faith of Islam. According to the public prosecutor, Dutch law says this is not punishable,” prosecutors Birgit van Roessel and Paul Velleman said on the website.
Comparing the Koran and Islam with Hitler’s political manifesto Mein Kampf, and with national socialism, fascism and communism could indeed hurt feelings, they said, but offending sensibilities was not a criminal offence.
The prosecutors originally did not want to charge Wilders at all, saying he was protected by the right to free speech, but a court overruled their arguments and ordered him charged.
Defence lawyer Bram Moszkowicz, who will present his final arguments next week, said the partial acquittal request was “well thought-out” but stressed the charges of inciting hatred and discrimination were more complicated, agency ANP reported.
Legal experts say it is unlikely that Wilders — who faces imprisonment or a fine if convicted — will be found guilty. He would be able to keep his seat in parliament even if convicted.
Farid Azarkan of the SMN association of Moroccans in the Netherlands, which had lodged a complaint against Wilders, said the prosecution’s request for acquittal was disappointing.
“We think he is insulting and discriminating against Muslims,” Azarkan told Reuters. “This is disappointing, but it makes clear what a politician can and can’t say in a debate in the Netherlands. The question is whether the judge agrees.”
Wilders argues that he has only spoken the truth about Islam and that the freedom of speech of those who voted for him in the June elections are on trial with him. He refused to “take one word back” last week as invoked his right to remain silent.
In a letter to a Dutch newspaper in August 2007 entitled “Enough is enough: ban the Koran,” he said the Koran is the “Mein Kampf” of a religion that aims to eliminate others and also argued against the “sick ideology” of Allah and Mohammad.
But the prosecution said the statements referred to Islam and the Koran in general, and only when a statement refers to people characterised by their religion and negative conclusions are drawn can the group be said to have been discredited.
A ruling in the case is expected on November 5.
Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block; Editing by Matthew Jones and Paul Taylor