AMSTERDAM (AP) — A Dutch court convicted populist anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders of hate speech Friday at the end of a trial he branded a politically motivated “charade” that endangered freedom of speech.
The politically charged prosecution centered on comments Wilders made before and after the Dutch municipal elections in 2014. At one meeting in a Hague cafe, he asked supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands. That sparked a chant of “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” — to which he replied, “we’ll take care of it.”
Prosecutors say that Wilders, who in 2011 was acquitted at another hate speech trial for his outspoken criticism of Islam, overstepped the limits of free speech by specifically targeting Moroccans.
On Friday, he was convicted for the interaction with the crowd of supporters in the Hague cafe, which judges said was carefully orchestrated and broadcast on national television. He was acquitted for similar comments he made in a radio interview a week earlier.
Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said the court would not impose a sentence because the conviction was punishment enough for a democratically elected lawmaker. Prosecutors had asked judges to fine him 5,000 euros ($5,300).
In a video response posted on YouTube, Wilders called the verdict an attack on the freedom of speech and vilified the judges who handed down the ruling.
“You have restricted the freedom of speech of millions of Dutch,” he said. “This sentence proves that you judges are completely out of touch.”
He also hit back at the accusations of racism, saying that, “Moroccans are not a race and people who criticize Moroccans are not racists.”
“I am not a racist and neither are my voters,” he said. “We will never let them take away our freedom of speech.”
Wilders was not in court for the verdict that came just over three months before national elections. His party is currently narrowly leading a nationwide poll of polls and has risen in popularity during the trial.
Even before the hearing, Wilders vowed not to let a conviction muzzle him.
“Whatever the verdict, I will continue to speak the truth about the Moroccan problem, and no judge, politician or terrorist will stop me,” he tweeted shortly before the verdict.
He had denied the charges and insisted he was performing his duty as a political leader by pointing out a problem in society.
Before declaring Wilders guilty, Steenhuis stressed that freedom of speech was not on trial as Wilders had claimed during the case.
“Freedom of speech is one of the foundations of our democratic society,” the judge said. But he added: “Freedom of speech can be limited, for example to protect the rights and freedoms of others, and that is what this case is about.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report