Dutch far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders faces judgement Thursday in an Amsterdam court for his statements attacking Islam, which he claimed were made to "defend freedom in the Netherlands." Wilders, 47, will be in the dock as Judge Marcel van Oosten starts his verdict at 9:00 am (0700 GMT) in a trial watched closely by both Wilders' supporters and his detractors and broadcast live. Wilders faces five counts of hate speech and discrimination for his anti-Islamic remarks on websites, Internet forums and in Dutch newspapers between October 2006 and March 2008, and in his controversial 17-minute movie "Fitna" ("Discord" in Arabic). In the past he has likened the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and "Fitna" shows shocking images of 9/11 and other terror attacks on western targets interspersed with verses from the Koran. The 2008 movie caused widespread outrage in Muslim countries and opposition from the Dutch government, who feared it might spark a militant response similar to that which followed the publication in Denmark of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.
But Wilders -- one of Europe's most heavily-guarded politicians -- has demanded his acquittal before the court, saying he was "obliged to speak, because the Netherlands is "under threat" from Islam. "Acquit me. I do not encourage hatred, I do not encourage discrimination," he told the Amsterdam court during its closing hearing on June 1. The blonde-haired parliamentarian, whose right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV) lends its support to a right-leaning Dutch coalition government, said he was "defending the character, the identity, the culture and the freedom of the Netherlands." His case has been helped by a reluctant prosecution, who last month again asked for his acquittal, saying his comments formed part of the public debate. The prosecution's unwillingness to take aim at Wilders stems back as far as 2008 when it refused to take up a case against him following complaints. On January 21, 2009, however, the Amsterdam appeals court forced the prosecution to mount a case against him.
Prosecutor Paul Velleman told the court that although Wilders' remarks may have caused anxiety and insult on several occasions, they were not criminal as they criticised a religion and therefore could not be punished. On trial since October last year, Wilders risks up to a year in jail or a 7,600-euro fine if found guilty. Wilders' trial comes against a backdrop of plans by the central-right Dutch government to move away from a multicultural approach towards a tougher stance against those who ignore Dutch values and break the law.