"Indications" that fmr Justice Min. influenced Wilders' hate speech case, lawyer says

Geert Wilders surrounded by bodyguards, Spijkenesse Feb 2017
Geert Wilders surrounded by bodyguards, Spijkenesse Feb 2017Photo: Peter van der Sluijs / Wikimedia Commons

There are "indications" that former Minister Ivo Opstelten of Justice and Security urged the Public Prosecution Service in 2014 to prosecute PVV leader Geert Wilders for hate speech over statements he made about Moroccans, Wilders' lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops said. He asked the court for "further investigation" into the question of whether the Minister influenced this case, Knoops said to RTL Nieuws.

Wilders is facing discrimination chargers over statements he made about Moroccans while campaigning in the Hague in 2014. Wilders said that The Hague should be a city with fewer problems and, if possible, fewer Moroccans. The PVV leader also asked a cafe full of his followers whether they want more or fewer Moroccans in The Hague and the Netherlands, to which they responded by chanting "fewer, fewer, fewer". Wilders then said he would arrange that. 

The court considered this a punishable offense. On December 9th, 2016, Wilders was found guilty of insulting a group of people and inciting discrimination. "Partly in view of the inflammatory nature and manner of these staments, others were hereby incited to discriminate against persons of Moroccan origin", the court ruled. The court did not give him any form of punishment, saying that the verdict is punishment enough. The Public Prosecutor demanded a 5 thousand euro fine. Both Wilders and the Prosecutor appealed. The appeal is set to start later this month. 

Knoops now wants Opstelten to testify under oath about his possible influence on this case, according to the broadcaster. Wilders' defense also asked for Herman Bolhaar, former head Public Prosecutor, and a number of former senior officials to be questioned under oath. When this case was first tried, Knoops' requests to question Ministers were rejected.

In May sources told RTL Nieuws that Opstelten made it clear to the Pubic Prosecution Service that Wilders' statements must lead to prosecution. According to the sources, Opstelten believed that due to the statements' social impact, criminal prosecution had to be instituted. In June RTL asked the Ministry, the Pubic Prosecutor, Ivo Opstelten and Herman Bolhaar a series of questions about the case. The Ministry and Public Prosecution Service  emphasized that the the Public Prosecutor made an "independent" decision, according tot he broadcaster. 

As this was not a clear denial, RTL requested documents on this case under the Open Government Act in June. In August the Ministry told the broadcaster that no documents were found "from which any involvement from my ministry with that decision appears". 

The broadcaster gave Wilders' lawyers insight into this. Knoops concluded that the absence of a hard, categorical denial brings new light to the case. "It is information that at least requires further investigation into the question of whether there has been political influence. The case is too serious not to investigate", the lawyer said to RTL. 

Wilders told RTL that he would find it "completely unacceptable" if Opstelten had indeed urged the Public Prosecutor to prosecute a representative who is also the "leader and faction chairman of an opposition party". On Monday the PVV leader will submit a series of written questions to the Ministers of Justice and Security and Home Affairs about this matter.