Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam politician, told a Dutch court that he stood by his opinions that the Koran is a “fascist book” and Islam is as dangerous as Nazism, as he went on trial for inciting racial hatred.
The flamboyant, peroxide blond MP, who holds the balance of power in the Netherlands after coming third in recent national elections on an anti-Muslim platform, told judges that he had no regrets over the comments.
Mr Wilders is being prosecuted for describing the Koran as “fascist” and for comparing it to Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, a text that is banned in the Netherlands.
In March 2008, he released a film called Fitna, Arabic for Strife, which linked the verses in the Koran to anti-Semitism, terrorist attacks in New York and London and urged that, like Nazism, “Islamic ideology has to be defeated”.
Prosecutors pointed to a series of quotes and remarks he has made in recent years. In one opinion piece he wrote: “I’ve had enough of Islam in the Netherlands; let not one more Muslim immigrate,” adding “I’ve had enough of the Koran in the Netherlands: Forbid that fascist book.”
Last year, the Dutch Court of Appeal ruled that, despite the case being dropped by prosecutors, that it considered “criminal prosecution obvious for the insult of Islamic worshippers” being compared to Nazis.
Mr Wilders faces five charges of inciting racial hatred between Oct 2006 and Mar 2008. If found guilty, Mr Wilders faces over a year in prison or a £6,600 fine.
Speaking at his trial yesterday, Mr Wilders said: “I am sitting here as a suspect because I have spoken nothing but the truth. I have said what I have said and I will not take one word back.”
Throwing down an open challenge to the court, Mr Wilders, 47, attacked the three judges sitting in the Amsterdam court for prosecuting him for “stating my opinion in the context of public debate”.
“I can assure you, I will continue proclaiming it,” he said.
However, proceedings were suspended for 24 hours, after Mr Wilders demanded that the court’s presiding judge be replaced.
After an opening statement by Mr Wilders, Bram Moszkowicz, his lawyer told the court that the defendant would exercise his right to silence and would not answer questions during the trial.
Jan Moors, the presiding judge then noted that Mr Wilders has been accused of being “good in taking a stand and then avoiding a discussion” of the issue. “By remaining silent, it seems you’re doing that today as well,” he said.
Attacking “scandalous” remarks, Mr Wilders and his lawyers asked for the court to be dissolved. “With this presiding judge and such a panel of judges, a fair trial isn’t possible anymore,” he said.
If the court rules in favour of the objections, new judges will need to be appointed, delaying proceedings.
He also accused the Dutch authorities of putting on trial the 1.5 million voters who backed his anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV) during June elections, making Mr Wilders a kingmaker in Dutch politics.
He and his party’s 23 other MPs have lent their support to a minority conservative government in return for key policy concessions, such as a Dutch burka ban and new curbs on immigration.
“I am on trial, but on trial with me is the freedom of expression of many Dutch citizens,” he said.
Mr Wilders launched his political crusade against Islam after resigning from the centre-right VVD party in 2005 over its support for EU membership for Turkey.
He then polarised the country by making the first European call for full Islamic dress to be banned. In 2005, he was given police protection after the exposure of an Islamist terrorist plot on his life.