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DUTCH COURT ACQUITS LAWMAKER OF HATE SPEECH FOR ANTI-ISLAM COMMENTS

by Jonathon M. Seidl
A Dutch court acquitted populist politician Geert Wilders of hate speech and discrimination Thursday, ruling that his anti-Islam statements, while offensive to many Muslims, fell within the bounds of legitimate political debate.
Presiding judge Marcel van Oosten said Wilders’ claims that Islam is violent by nature, and his calls to halt Muslim immigration and ban the Muslim holy book, the Quran, must be seen in a wider context of debate over immigration policy.
The court said his public statements could not be directly linked to increased discrimination against Dutch Muslims.
Wilders sat stone-faced while the judge read the ruling, but smiled broadly and shook hands with his lawyers after the verdict was announced. He waved to cheering supporters who hugged each other in the public gallery, and grinned as he left the courtroom.
Wilders, one of the most powerful and popular politicians in the Netherlands, was accused of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims through numerous public statements, and with insulting them by comparing Islam with Naziism.
“I’m incredibly happy with this acquittal on all counts,” Wilders said outside the courtroom.
“It’s not only an acquittal for me, but a victory for freedom of expression in the Netherlands. Fortunately you‘re allowed to discuss Islam in public debate and you’re not muzzled… An enormous burden has fallen from my shoulders,” he said.
Groups that filed the complaints against Wilders that ultimately led to his prosecution said they were disappointed with the ruling.

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