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Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Wilders 'makes Muslims feel unsafe' (Netherlands)

Muslims in the Netherlands say that remarks by politician Geert Wilders have poisoned attitudes toward them, according to complaints disclosed at his hate speech trial on Wednesday.

"My family and I no longer feel safe in the Netherlands because Mr Wilders is continually making hateful remarks about Islamic Dutch people," said one complaint read out by the judge.

"It's getting scary...soon the kids won't be able to say that they're Muslim or half-Moroccan," wrote the citizen, whose name was not released.

Dozens of similar complaints filed with public prosecutors eventually led them to file charges against Wilders, citing frequent statements he has made comparing Islam to fascism, calling for a ban on Muslim immigration and for banning the Koran.

Wilders is charged with inciting discrimination and hatred and with insulting a people on religious grounds, punishable with up to a year in jail and a fine.

Wilders, who polls suggest is the Netherlands' most popular politician, denies any wrongdoing. He says that his opinions are protected by freedom of speech and endorsed by more than a million people who voted for him in national elections last June.

He accused his judges of bias, but lost a motion this week to have them replaced. In an opening statement, he claimed his trial is political and he would remain silent in the Amsterdam court.

The case is seen as a test of how far a politician can go in speaking negatively about a religion without unlawfully infringing on religious freedom. He has never called for violence.

The debate over immigration has dominated Dutch politics for a decade, as it has in much of Europe. Immigration controls have been continually tightened due to rising resentment over the growing Muslim presence and their difficulty in accepting Dutch values. Muslims, mostly from Morocco and Turkey, now comprise about 6 % of the Netherlands' 16.5 million population.

Press Association