Dutch anti-Islam MP sparks fake news row

Geert Wilders draws criticism for posting photoshopped image of political rival at Islamist demonstration

Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing Dutch Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid -- PVV), at the Senate at the Binnenhof in The Hague, Holland, November 17, 2016. (AFP/ANP/Bart Maat)
Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing Dutch Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid -- PVV), at the Senate at the Binnenhof in The Hague, Holland, November 17, 2016. (AFP/ANP/Bart Maat)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders triggered a row over fake news Monday with a biting Twitter message showing a photoshopped picture of another party leader surrounded by radical Islamists.

Some five weeks ahead of key elections in The Netherlands, Wilders posted the fake picture of D66 leader Alexander Pechthold supposedly rallying with Muslims holding up signs reading: “Islam will conquer Europe” and “Shariah for the Netherlands.”

Wilders’s radical anti-Islam and anti-immigrant platform has helped propel his Freedom Party (PVV) to the top of the opinion polls in recent months ahead of the March 15 vote.

In his tweet, he accused Pechthold — who heads the pro-European, pro-democracy, social-liberal D66 party — of “demonstrating with Hamas terrorists.”

And he asked what would be the next step before posting the picture of the fake rally.

D66 is one of 28 parties contesting the election and is currently trailing fifth in the polls, and Wilders’s taunt prompted an angry reaction from Pechthold.

“Usually I laugh at photoshopped pictures on the internet. But not this time,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

“Not because I can’t stand up for myself … but because it gives people false impressions.”

Last year, Pechthold tried to sue the PVV over a video which sparked deaths threats against him.

“In these times of fake news and alternative facts, we can’t just ignore the consequences that such a fake image can have,” he said.

“I draw the line today.”

But Wilders hit back on Twitter, saying: “Stop complaining, drama queen. You have demonstrated standing among Palestinian flags, with friends of Hamas. #hypocrite”

(L-R) Frauke Petry of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), French National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini of Italy's xenophobic Northern League and Geert Wilders of the Dutch far-right Freedom Party arrive for a meeting on January 21, 2017 in Koblenz, western Germany. (AFP PHOTO / Roberto Pfeil)
Frauke Petry of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), French National Front leader Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini of Italy’s xenophobic Northern League and Geert Wilders of the Dutch far-right Freedom Party arrive for a meeting in Koblenz, western Germany, January 21, 2017. (AFP/Roberto Pfeil)

The vote in the Netherlands will kick off a year of elections in Europe with ballots due in both France and Germany. They will be closely watched amid the rise of populist and far-right parties on the Continent.

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