What Was Behind the Trial of Geert Wilders?

by George Igler
December 13, 2016

Much has been made of the 2016 populist revolt in the West, beginning with Britain’s June 23 decision to leave the European Union, and culminating with the victory of president-elect Donald Trump on November 8. The narrative of change is understandably seductive, but has recently been dealt successive blows by the domestic circumstances that so characterize European politics.

Despite traditions of liberty being placed at the heart of the successful Trump campaign, the promise of a new economic approach also enabled him to cross the line on election day.

The Brexit vote similarly took place under a referendum that allowed Britain’s voting populace to defy the stated preference of the majority of their elected parliamentarians.

The most disturbing recent development on the European continent, however, was Friday’s conviction of Geert Wilders on two charges, “inciting discrimination and insulting a minority group,” for asking supporters whether they wanted “fewer Moroccans” in the Netherlands, at a small public rally in a bar in The Hague, on March 19, 2014.

Geert Wilders during his March 2014 speech, where he asked “Do you want more or fewer Moroccans?” (Image source: nos.nl video screenshot)

This “hate speech” case against Wilders similarly pits popular alarm over the consequences of mass migration plus a principled politician who for years — in the face of threats against his life, has agitated for genuine change — against an untrustworthy, politicized legal system which appears at odds with both Wilders and popular alarm. Several Dutch Labour Party politicians, who said far more damaging things about Moroccans than Wilders did, yet were never prosecuted:

  • “We also have sh*t Moroccans over here.” — Rob Oudkerk, a Dutch Labour Party (PvDA) politician.
  • “We must humiliate Moroccans.” — Hans Spekman, PvDA politician.
  • “Moroccans have the ethnic monopoly on trouble-making.” — Diederik Samsom, PvDA politician.

Although Wilders’s trial clearly appears an orchestrated miscarriage of justice, it is arguably not helpful to view the basis for his prosecution through an absolutist defense of freedom of speech, intuitively understandable to Americans. No constitutional equivalent of the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from passing laws abridging the freedom of speech, exists in Europe.

This right, however, even in the U.S. is somewhat qualified, as laid out in Brandenberg vs. Ohio, but none of those exceptions would apply to Wilders (imminent danger and individual personalization). Under the strictures of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), freedom of expression is a “qualified” right in much broader terms — from which “left-wing” members of the Dutch Labour Party issuing the far more objectionable statements quoted above are apparently excluded: “the state may lawfully interfere with the right to freedom of expression in certain defined and limited circumstances.”[1]

The arguments qualifying the conviction of Wilders, in the courtroom of the military base at Schiphol Airport, according to the presiding jurist Hendrik Steenhuis, were that the PVV leader’s comments were “unworthy” of an elected member of parliament — as Judge Steenhuis denied any assertion that the trial was politically motivated. Yet, are not elected Members of Parliament even more responsible to for the safety of the public than are other citizens? If elected officials are criminalized for speaking out, at what point do such restrictions start posing a national security problem?

Read more here: https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/9554/behind-wilders-trial

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