25th Mar 2018

Leaked papers 'compromise' Wilders' right to fair trial

  • Geert Wilders is suspected of insulting a group based on hate, and inciting hatred (Photo: Flickr/Roel Wijnants)

The second trial against Dutch anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders commenced on Friday (18 March) in Amsterdam with a dramatic call for an investigation into leaked documents.

Dutch newspaper AD had announced on Thursday night it would publish excerpts of documents from Wilders' legal team that contained their legal strategy.

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“Apparently someone has gained access to these documents,” said Wilders' lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops. He called the leak an “attack on this trial” and said it was a “breach of the right to a fair trial”. He said his legal team was now unsure if their lawyer-client communication can be conducted confidentially.

He asked the court to investigate the leak before the next session, which is scheduled for 26 May 2016. He also began his defence against the charges.

While Friday's session was, in formalterms, just a preparatory meeting to determine witnesses and other due process, Knoops gave an extensive plea that lasted almost five hours.

The question the Dutch court will investigate over the coming months is: Where does freedom of speech for politicians end and where does their responsibility not to insult groups or to incite hatred begin?

In March 2014, Wilders spoke twice about the extent to which his supporters want to have “fewer Moroccans” in the Netherlands.

The public prosecutor said on Friday that freedom of speech is important, but that it is “not absolute”.

He said it entails “obligations and responsibilities”, including the responsibility not to pit incite parts of the population against each other.

The prosecutor said that, according to one witness, Wilders’ first comment on his voters wanting “if at all possible, fewer Moroccans” was a slip of the tongue. But the second time he brought it up, one week later, it was premeditated.

According to another prosecution witness, a Wilders foot soldier on the second occasion prepared the crowd by telling them what Wilders would talk about and when they should chant “fewer, fewer, fewer”.

Out of context

Wilders' lawyer Knoops said the public prosecutor had taken the comments out of context.

Knoops said that Wilders had also asked the crowd if they wanted “less Europe” and “less Labour party” in their city. The lawyer invited the court to bring in what he called “scientific” experts to evaluate Wilders’ “fewer Moroccans” comment in the context of his whole career.

Knoops said the Netherlands lacks a “consistent theory” on the limitations of free speech.

He also said the fact that the Dutch deputy prime minister had publicly criticised Wilders’ “fewer Moroccans” comment meant that ordinary Dutch people see him as being guilty before the trial even began.

Knoops said procedural issues further harm the integrity of the trial.

He said some of the Moroccan witnesses, especially older ones, had filled out police forms that they did not understand and that some forms were filled out for them by other people.

The public prosecutor noted that 6,475 people had filed complaints, but that their quantity was not a factor in his decision on whether to open the case.

Heavy security

The trial was held at a heavily guarded complex near the country's main airport, Schiphol in Amsterdam.

It takes place two years after Wilders made the comments about Moroccans and at a time when his party is riding high in polls.

Wilders himself was also in the room, but would only speak at the end of the hearing.

At 4PM, the court suspended the sitting for at least one hour to give the public prosecutor the time to prepare a response to the Knoops’ plea, which had been surprisingly long.

It is the second time that Wilders is in court on suspicion of insulting a group and inciting hatred. He was cleared of all charges in the former case in 2011.

Wilders convicted for insulting Moroccans

Dutch court says far right politician should not have made his statements calling for "fewer Moroccans" in 2014. However, he will not receive any jail sentence or fine.

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