A court in the Netherlands has upheld hate speech charges against controversial far-right MP Geert Wilders, over comments he made about Moroccans. Wilders is the leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV) which will contest in the Dutch elections in March 2017.
In 2014, the 53-year-old sparked outrage during a rally in 2014 when he asked whether the crowd wanted "fewer or more Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands?" After the crowd shouted back "fewer" Wilders said: "We're going to organise that".
On Friday (14 October), his lawyers asked for the case against the MP to be thrown out, only for judges at The Hague District Court to reject the plea. His comments attracted more than 6,400 complaints from citizens, with criticism also coming from within Wilders' party.
Judges told the court that five organisations and 56 people have registered as victims of the remarks. Wilders' attorneys said the trail was a "political case," as parliamentary elections are due in March.
According to Sky News they argued the MP had merely "put forward his party's political programme" and claimed the case could have "far reaching political consequences for democracy". One of his lawyers, Geert-Jan Knoops told judges at an earlier hearing that freedom of expression is "the last freedom Mr Wilders has left".
Despite their stance, the court said that politicians are entitled to freedom of expression, but should "avoid public statements that feed intolerance". Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said according to the news organisation: "Where the border lies between the two will be debated in this trial."
Wilders, who has led the party since 2006, has vowed to take the Netherlands out of the EU if he wins the parliamentary elections next year. In response to the court's decision Wilders took to Twitter, where he fumed: "Prosecuted for voicing the opinion of millions. The Netherlands is like Turkey. Displeasing political opinions are being silenced in court."
In 2001, the MP was cleared of five counts of inciting hatred after he compared Islam to Nazism and he was denied entry to the UK in February 2009 on public security grounds. He came anyway and was deported back to Holland.
The PVV had been leading the polls ahead of the election in March 2017. But the PVV have recently lost its lead to Prime Minister Mark Rutte's liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).
Since 2004, Wilders has had 24 hour protection after the assassination of anti-Islam film director Theo van Gogh. Wilder's trial at The Hague District Court will start on 31 October this year.