March 18, 2016 / 12:11 AM / a year ago

Dutch far right leader Geert Wilders on trial for discrimination

3 Min Read

Dutch far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders talks during a news conference at the end of the "Europe of Nations and Freedom" meeting in Milan, January 29, 2016.Alessandro Garofalo

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Geert Wilders, the right-wing politician who was acquitted five years ago of making anti-Islam remarks, goes on trial again Friday for allegedly inciting hatred against the Dutch Moroccan minority.

The case comes as Wilders and other populist politicians - including Donald Trump in the United States and Marine le Pen in France - have won support by calling for a ban on Muslim immigration.

State prosecutors say Wilders asked a crowd of supporters in March 2014 whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans, in the Netherlands triggering the chant: "Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!" to which a smiling Wilders responded: "We'll take care of that."

The lawmaker, whose decade-old Freedom Party holds a commanding lead in Dutch popular opinion polls but has never been in power, denies any wrongdoing.

"Nobody will silence me. Not about Moroccans either," he tweeted last week. "No terrorist threats ... no judge. Nobody."

Wilders has lived under 24-hour protection since the 2004 murder of Theo van Gogh, who - like Wilders - made films criticizing Islam.

The case against Wilders in 2011 centered on his call for a "towel-head" tax and equating the Koran with Hitler's "Mein Kampf". He said "Muslim criminals" should be stripped of their Dutch nationality and deported.

Although Wilders' remarks are offensive to many, he says he has no grudge against immigrants who accept Dutch laws and customs and he has never advocated violence.

Judges concluded that Wilders' remarks may have been rude, but he was let off because they targeted a religion, not a race.

"That is the difference now," prosecution spokeswoman, Ilse de Heer, said.

Friday's prosecution is different because his remarks "targeted a specific race, which is considered a crime".

Wilders faces one charge of discrimination and a second for inciting hatred of Moroccans, who make up about 2 percent of the population of roughly 17 million.

In addition to the "fewer" comment, Wilders referred to Moroccans as "scum" in a television broadcast. He may go to jail for as long as a year and could be fined a maximum of 7,400 euros ($8,400).

The hearing at a high-security courtroom next to Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is frequently used for cases involving organized crime and the trials of Islamist radicals.

In France in December, Le Pen was acquitted of charges of inciting hatred against French Muslims for comparing Muslims praying in the street to the German occupation of France during World War Two.

Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Louise Ireland

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