AMSTERDAM (AP) — An Amsterdam court said Monday it will reconsider dismissing the hate speech trial of one of the country's most popular leaders, an anti–immigrant politician who compared Islam to fascism and called for a ban on the Quran.
Preliminary objections to Geert Wilders' trial were heard by an another panel of judges last year, but that court stepped down when it became embroiled in allegations of potential bias against him.
The Wilders' defense team had a right to present its preliminary objections again, and if they are granted "then the case is over and out," Judge Marcel van Oosten said.
Wilders, the powerful head of the Freedom Party, faces charges of "inciting discrimination" for his remarks, which opponents say have led to more anti–Muslim discrimination. Wilders denies wrongdoing, saying he has a right to freedom of speech and that many Dutch voters support him.
Even before the first panel of judges was dismissed, prosecutors had conceded they didn't think their evidence was strong enough for a conviction.
But if the case is to be heard, then Wilders' defense lawyer Bram Moszkowicz said at a hearing last week that he wants a complete retrial with new witnesses.
Van Oosten ruled that if the case continues past preliminary objections, then Moszkowicz will be allowed to call some of the witnesses he requested. Those include Islamic scholars to testify about the evidence for Wilders' claims that it is an inherently violent religion.
However, the judge rejected requests to hear several other witnesses, including Mohammed Bouyeri, the Dutch–born Islamic radical who killed filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004 over perceived religious insults.
Van Oosten said Bouyeri doesn't qualify as an expert.
"It's generally known that among the adherents of Islam, as in other religions, one can find some people who aren't shy to endorse or apply the use of violence," the judge said. "That doesn't need any further evidence."
Moszkowicz's key preliminary arguments the first time around were that the case had been motivated by Wilders' political enemies, and that most of his alleged anti–Muslim remarks are protected speech because they were made as part of public political debate.
Van Oosten ordered a one–hour recess while Moszkowicz and Wilders confer on dates for the preliminary objections to be heard. Wilders said he wasn't happy to be in court at all, given his public schedule which includes preparation for local elections March 2.
However, "assume that I will be here for every sitting," he told the judge.
After booking big gains in national elections last year, his Freedom Party is propping up an all–conservative minority Cabinet in exchange for a new round of restrictions on immigration and measures such as a ban on Muslims wearing face–covering clothes in public.