Wilders hate speech appeal: 'Fewer Moroccans' a call for policy change, says lawyer

The first pro-forma hearing in the appeal of the hate speech trial against PVV leader Geert Wilders, was held in the high security court at Schiphol on Tuesday. Wilders' statements about wanting fewer Moroccans in The Hague and the Netherlands did not lead to actual discrimination against Moroccans, the PVV leader's lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops argued. Instead they should be seen as a call for the government to change its policy, the lawyer said, NOS reports.

Knoops also argued that Wilders' statements were fully in line with the PVV campaign program to reduce the number of Moroccans by reducing immigration, promoting remigration and deporting criminals with dual-nationality. 

This case revolves around statements Wilders made while campaigning in The Hague in 2014. He said that The Hague should be a city with fewer problems, and "if possible, fewer Moroccans". He also asked a cafe full of people whether they want more or fewer Moroccans in The Hague, to which his followers responded by chanting "fewer, fewer, fewer". Wilders then said he would arrange that. On December 9th last year Wilders was convicted of insulting a group of people and inciting discrimination. The court decided not to impose a punishment on him. 

The lawyer started by telling the court that he will need five to six hours to list his grievances against the court's verdict in December. He quoted directly from international treaties, which the court misinterpreted, according to the lawyer. Knoops wants Human Rights Professor Tom Zwart to be summoned as a witness to explain the treaties to the court. Zwart was also a witness in the initial trial, during which he said that the European Convention on Human Rights offers "a wide degree of protection" for Wilders, according to NOS.

The Public Prosecutor stated in court that this trial is by no means a political process, as Wilders claimed several times during the initial trial. According to the Prosecutor, this process concerns two fundamental rights - freedom of speech and the right not to be discriminated against. The right to free speech is a great thing, and applies in particular to politicians, prosecutor Brigit van Roessel said. But if this fundamental right is abused and that freedom is used for discrimination, people's right to existence is put in danger, the prosecutor said. "An opinion may be harsh, but discrimination is not tolerated." Where the boundary lies, will become clear in this process, according to her. 

Both Wilders and the Prosecutor appealed in this case. Wilders appealed against his conviction, the Prosecutor against the decision not to punish the PVV leader. 

Tuesday's hearing was only a pro-forma hearing, giving the Public Prosecutor and Knoops a chance to list exactly why they appealed in this case. Another pro-forma hearing will be held on Thursday. The substantive trial will only start on May 17th - after the municipal elections in March.