AMSTERDAM Prosecutors asked a Dutch court on Friday to acquit anti-immigration lawmaker Geert Wilders of charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims.
The new Dutch minority government, made up of the Liberals and Christian Democrats which took office on Thursday, is reliant on support from Wilders' anti-Islam Freedom Party.
Prosecutors, who had already called on the court to drop a charge that Wilders insulted Muslims by comparing Islam to Nazism, said his comments were aimed at Islam and not Muslims as a group. They said he had the right as a politician to make statements about perceived problems in society.
"Wilders does not often refer to Muslims, but Islam. Criticism of a religion is not punishable," prosecutors Birgit van Roessel and Paul Velleman said.
They added that, although several statements by Wilders incited discrimination against Muslims, they could not be adjudged as criminal since he made them as a politician in the context of a public debate.
Wilders said he was extremely happy. "I do not insult, I do not incite hate, I do not discriminate. The only thing I do and will continue to do, is to speak the truth," he told reporters.
In a letter to a Dutch newspaper in August 2007, entitled "Enough is enough: ban the Koran," Wilders said the Koran was the "Mein Kampf" of a religion that aimed to eliminate others and alleged the holy text incited Muslims to violence.
"I have had enough of Islam in the Netherlands; not one Muslim immigrant more," Wilders said. "I have had enough of the Koran in the Netherlands, ban that fascist book."
EMOTIONS RUNNING HIGH
Wilders went on trial after a court ordered prosecutors to press charges, overruling their original stance that the MP was protected by the right to free speech.
Despite the request from prosecutors for the charges to be dropped, the court can still convict and imprison or fine the MP. He can keep his seat in parliament if convicted, however.
"The case is legally complex and emotions are running high," said FORUM, an independent research institute for multicultural affairs. "If freedom of speech is also invoked in criminal cases, one essentially sees a collision of fundamental rights."
Mohammed Rabbae of the National Council for Moroccans accused the prosecution of using the trial only to defend its original decision not to pursue charges against Wilders, adding that it did not present any new, convincing arguments.
"If you say 'We have a problem with Muslims,' what you are really saying is that we, as white people, have a problem with Muslims. You can't tell me this is not racism. I can scarcely believe that," Rabbae told Reuters.
Defense lawyer Bram Moszkowicz will address the court next week and a verdict is expected on November 5.
(Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block; editing by Andrew Dobbie)