AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A Dutch court on Friday approved a request from anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders to have new judges for his trial on charges of inciting hatred against Muslims, forcing the court to start the case again.
Wilders’ lawyer had asked the court to replace the current judges, raising concerns about bias after they did not immediately approve a request to hear an expert witness.
The ruling is a victory for the outspoken Wilders, who plays a key role in supporting the new minority government after his anti-immigration Freedom Party made big election gains.
“This gives me a new chance of a new fair trial. I am confident that I can only be acquitted because I have broken no law, but spoken the truth,” Wilders told Reuters, arguing that his comments were covered by freedom of speech.
The court said on Friday the defense’s fear of bias from trial judges was “understandable.”
“The hearing will be adjourned and at a later moment another chamber will have to start the case again,” the presiding judge said, reading out the ruling.
Wilders could be jailed or fined if he is found guilty of insulting Muslims by comparing Islam to Nazism, although he could keep his seat in parliament.
A court official could not say when the judges would be appointed, or when the case would resume.
Concerns about bias arose after a Dutch newspaper on Friday reported that a judge at the appeals court that ordered the trial had told an academic, Hans Jansen, that it was “good” that Wilders was being prosecuted.
Wilders’ lawyer, Bram Moszkowicz, had wanted the court to hear testimony from Jansen -- one of several expert witnesses on Islam and the Arab world that Moszkowicz had called to back Wilders’ contention that Islam incites violence.
Unusually, the prosecution team have also asked for an acquittal, arguing that politicians have the right to comment on problem issues and that Wilders was not trying to foment violence or division. However, the judges have the power to convict regardless of the prosecution’s stance.
Additional reporting by Marcel Michelson; Editing by Kevin Liffey
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