Dutch court ponders halt to lawmaker's hate trial

Amsterdam, The Netherlands - An Amsterdam court will reconsider dismissing the hate speech trial of one of the Netherland's most popular leaders, an anti-immigrant politician who has compared Islam to fascism and called for a ban on the Quran.

Preliminary objections to Geert Wilders' trial were heard by an another panel of judges last year, but that court stepped down when it became embroiled in allegations of potential bias against him.

A new court ruled Monday that Wilders' defense team had a right to present its preliminary objections again, and if they are granted "then the case is over and out," said Judge Marcel van Oosten.

Wilders, the powerful head of the Freedom Party, faces charges of "inciting discrimination" for his remarks, which opponents say have led to more anti-Muslim discrimination. Wilders denies wrongdoing, saying he has a right to freedom of speech and that many Dutch voters support him.

Even before the first panel of judges was dismissed, prosecutors had conceded they didn't think their evidence was strong enough for a conviction.

But if the case is to be heard, Wilders' defense lawyer Bram Moszkowicz has said he wants a complete retrial with new witnesses.

Van Oosten ruled that if the case continues past preliminary objections, then Moszkowicz will be allowed to call some of the witnesses he requested. Those include Islamic scholars to testify on Wilders' claims that it is an inherently violent religion.

However, the judge rejected requests to hear several other witnesses, including Mohammed Bouyeri, the Dutch-born Islamic radical who killed filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004 over perceived religious insults. Van Oosten said Bouyeri doesn't qualify as an expert.

Moszkowicz had claimed the case was motivated by Wilders' alleged political enemies, including a judge at Amsterdam's appeals court who allegedly attempted to speak to a potential witness before the trial. The lawyer also asked that the venue be moved to The Hague.

Van Oosten scheduled March 14 for Moszkowicz's preliminary arguments.

Wilders' Freedom Party is propping up an all-conservative minority Cabinet in exchange for a new round of restrictions on immigration.