The trial of Dutch politician Geert Wilders for his anti-Islamic views has been thrown into disarray after his judges were found to be themselves biased — against Wilder. A verdict from the panel of three judges at the Amsterdam district court was due next week. A re-trial will be scheduled with new judges.
For example, one of the appeal court judges, Tom Schalken, had dinner with Professor Hans Jansen, a professor of Arabic studies, a potential witness. Jansen revealed that Schalken tried “to convince me of the correctness of the decision to take Wilders to court.”
I have been highly critical of the trial as part of a crackdown on free speech in the West, particularly in criticism of religion. In my view, the trial should be denounced by everyone who values free speech regardless of how one feels about his views. For a prior column on this issue, click here. You will also find a long line of such cases by searching “blasphemy” on this blog.
There is no question that Wilders has made disturbing comments about immigrants and Muslims, including comparing Islam to Nazism and fascism. Mohamed Rabbae, chairman of the moderate National Moroccan Council, has been quoted as saying that his group does not want jail time to merely to “correct” Wilders. Such corrections can occur through the exercise of free speech — not through government censoring unpopular views or comments on religion. This is precisely the danger of “hate speech” laws raised by civil libertarians. It can easily mutate into a regulation of speech where unpopular speech is defined as a crime.
Ideally, the prosecutors would drop the case — particularly after they agreed to drop five charges earlier based on the lack of a basis to prosecute. The trial has supplied a vivid demonstration of the dangers of blasphemy laws and the prosecution of free speech. The prosecution has called a series of witnesses who clearly disagree with Wilders’ views to condemn him as a danger to society and how his speeches make them feel threatened. It is the very type of content-based regulation of speech that is anathema in the United States.