This afternoon the court of appeal handed down its verdict in the ‘less Moroccan’ trial of Geert Wilders. A case that has been going on for six years. It’s also a complicated case, about issues of principle, about the limits of freedom of speech. What has happened in the six years the trial has been going on? First, let’s take a look back.
It started in March 2014 when PVV leader Geert Wilders asked his supporters whether they wanted more or less Moroccans in the Netherlands. “Less!”, they scanned. Then Wilders said: “Then we’ll arrange that”.
This is the moment the lawsuit is about:
Thousands of people reported discrimination to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which decided to prosecute Wilders for this ruling in December 2014. In 2016, Wilders was convicted by the court in The Hague for group insult and incitement to discrimination, but he was not punished for that.
Both Wilders and the Public Prosecution Service appealed against the decision. “The Public Prosecution because the judges did not find Wilders guilty on all points in the indictment”, says reporter Mattijs van de Wiel who followed the case for six years. “He wasn’t convicted of sowing hatred, nor for the statements he made a week before that election night on a market in The Hague. Then he also asked for fewer Moroccans.”
During the first substantive hearing of the appeal on 17 May 2018, Wilders submitted a challenge request. He did so after the court of appeal had rejected a request by Wilders to do more research into a decision of the Public Prosecution Service not to prosecute politician Alexander Pechtold. In Wilders’ eyes, he had made a similar statement about Russians. The request was granted and the trial was continued with new judges on June 5.
During the trial RTL Nieuws came out with documents from which it would appear that Minister of Justice Opstelten had spoken to the Public Prosecution Service about the prosecution. According to Wilders there was political influence and he wanted more investigation into this. Pending RTL’s Wob request for more documents that might prove this, the case was put on hold.
Another postponement due to the corona crisis
When those documents were made public in February of this year, the court took extra time to study the new documents. The trial was to be resumed on March 23, but then the corona crisis began and hearings were postponed several times. The trial was not resumed until the end of June.
Last week Wilders had the last word as a suspect and this afternoon the court of appeal will rule in the extra secured court at Schiphol.
“What Wilders hopes is that the court will not reach a verdict,” says Van de Wiel. “What his lawyer and he have done, especially in the last phase of the appeal, is to try to show that this whole process should never have taken place. That it was a politically motivated prosecution, that then Minister of Justice Opstelten and his officials interfered, that they insisted that Wilders was prosecuted and that they interfered in the way”
If the court does come to a verdict, Wilders thinks he should be acquitted. He says he only mentioned problems and proposed solutions that were also in his election programme. He also says that shortly after the ‘less, less’ moment he explained that he didn’t mean all Moroccans but only criminal nuisance Moroccans. And he thinks he should answer for this in the House of Representatives and not in court.
“Because this case touches on the boundaries of freedom of expression, it is complicated and there are few court rulings that the court can fall back on,” says Van de Wiel. “That’s why there’s a good chance that this case won’t end this afternoon. I don’t rule out that eventually the Supreme Court, the highest court, will look into the case to indicate where those limits lie”