Wilders hate speech convictions: Mixed results in appeal over "fewer Moroccans" case
With reporting by Janene Pieters.
The Court of Appeal in The Hague ruled that populist politician Geert Wilders was rightly found guilty of insulting a race of people during a political rally held on the eve of elections in the Netherlands in 2014, but acquitted the political leader of inciting discrimination and hatred. The court decided that while the comments from the politician were insulting to an entire group of people, his comments at a political rally were for the purpose of political gain and not for the purpose of discriminating against all Moroccans. Other comments made at a market days before were unprepared comments also not aimed at discrediting people of Moroccan heritage, the court ruled.
The court declined to punish Wilders in the case for what it called "unnecessarily offensive" remarks, though prosecutors had demanded a fine of several thousands of euros. "The seriousness of the facts and the special personal circumstances (such as the fact that Wilders himself has been paying a high price for propagating his opinion for years) led the court to rule that a sentencing no longer serves any purpose," the court said. Both Wilders and the Public Prosecution Service (OM) can appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
Wilders, the leader of the far-right nationalist PVV party, was on trial for statements he made about Moroccans while campaigning in The Hague in 2014. He asked a cafe full of people during his election night rally speech on March 19, "Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this city and in the Netherlands?" The audience responded by chanting "fewer, fewer, fewer," to which Wilders replied, "Well, then we will arrange that." He also said that The Hague should be a city with fewer problems and, if possible, fewer Moroccans a week earlier.
In December 2016, a lower court ruled that Wilders was guilty of insulting a group of people and inciting discrimination, though the court imposed no form of punishment, saying that the verdict was punishment enough. The Public Prosecutor demanded a five thousand euro fine. Both Wilders and the Prosecutor appealed the judgment.
On appeal, the court said that Wilders' comments were indeed needlessly offensive to the Moroccan people, and that the politician knew the furor his comments would cause because of the response to his earlier remarks. His comments were made without context, to an audience and on camera. However, the appellate court disagreed with the earlier ruling, "because Wilders' intention was not aimed at encouraging his public" to itself act out in a discriminatory or hate-filled manner.
Wilders and his lawyers argued that the case against him should be dropped, citing political interference and recent riots in The Hague and Utrecht as reasons. The OM always denied any political involvement in the decision to prosecute Wilders and again demanded a 5 thousand euros fine against him.
In its ruling the court agreed that there was a political context to the case, considering there was an election process underway, and Wilders himself is a politician. However, the court decided that determining if Wilders' comments were punishable is a legal question, and not a political one. The court also denied a portion of Wilders' appellate defense, stating that the judges did not believe there was evidence to suggest that the Justice and Security Ministry interfered by pressuring the OM to push a harsher case against the politician. At that time the ministry was led by Ivo Opstelten.
In its ruling, the court said there was no evidence that the OM lied to cover up any appearance of collusion. "The right to a fair trial has therefore not been endangered," the court said.
The PVV party leader continued his remarks against Moroccan people even on his way to the special maximum security court at Schiphol Airport on Friday. He sent a message on social media platform Twitter stating that he was arriving to the courthouse "While Moroccans who set our cities on fire usually get away with it and never see the inside of a courtroom."