Dutch lawmaker back in court for hate speech case

Amsterdam, Netherlands - Lawyers for Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders said Monday that if their client's hate-speech case is not dismissed they want a retrial with new defense witnesses including the country's most notorious convicted terrorist.

Wilders faces charges of inciting hatred against Muslims after he compared Islam to fascism and called for a ban on the Quran.

It is "my right and my duty as a member of parliament to speak the truth about the evil ideology that is called Islam," he told judges in a courtroom speech at the end of Monday's televised hearing.

Wilders is one of the most prominent of the anti-Islam populists gaining influence in Europe, and his case has been seen as a major test of the legitimacy of their ideas. It pits his right to free speech against the right of Muslim immigrants to freedom from insult and discrimination allegedly caused by Wilders' remarks.

A new panel of judges is hearing the long-pending case against Wilders after the previous judges were dismissed in October.

The new panel must decide whether to drop the charges, change the venue from the Amsterdam District Court or begin all over again.

If that happens, Wilders' lawyer Bram Moszkowicz said Wilders wants to call Mohammed Bouyeri, the Muslim radical who is serving a life sentence for the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh.

Following last year's elections Wilders' Freedom Party is the country's third largest. It is now propping up a minority conservative Cabinet. It's platform demands a freeze of immigration from Muslim countries and forcing Muslim immigrants to adopt Dutch cultural values.

Moszkowicz said if Wilders is to be tried for expressing his opinions he must be allowed to cite the experts and evidence that have shaped his thinking.

Wilders has been under constant police protection since Bouyeri threatened him in a note filled with religious ramblings impaled on Van Gogh's corpse.

The legal process so far has proved to be a debacle. Prosecutors at first declined to press charges in response to dozens of complaints from Muslims, saying Wilders' remarks were part of a legitimate political debate.

But an appeals court ordered the prosecutors to bring the case to trial. Prosecutors did so, but then told trial judges the evidence was too weak for a conviction Before the trial judges could rule, they were themselves dismissed. Allegations emerged that one of the appeals judges who had ordered the case attended a dinner party with a witness, leaving an impression of possible bias.

When trial judges declined to have the appeals judge interrogated in court, a review panel ordered an entirely new set of judges to take over.

Prosecutor Birgit van Roessel told the new judges Monday she did not think the case should be dismissed - in essence asking for a clear public ruling on whether remarks such as Wilders' are permissible.

Wilders declined to speak during most of the proceedings, citing his right to silence, but appeared confident of acquittal in his speech Monday.

"I believe with everything that's in me that Islam is an ideology that's primarily distinguished by murder and killing and can only bring forth societies that are retarded and impoverished," he said.

Muslim groups who filed suit against Wilders have asked for a symbolic one-euro penalty. They say Wilders' rhetoric has led to polarization of Dutch society, and increased discrimination against Muslims, who make up about five percent of the Netherlands' population.

The prosecution said it would object to some of Wilders' proposed new defense witnesses.

Co-prosecutor Paul Velleman said the court already has heard enough from three Islam experts, who agreed about the general contents of the Quran. Velleman said trying to define the nature of a religion is beyond the bounds of the case.

New presiding Judge Marcel van Oosten said the court will decide what to do next at a hearing on Feb. 14.