The anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders was back in court Monday, three months after an appeals court ordered a retrial in his hate speech case. The politician appeared before a new set of judges, charged with inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims, Moroccans and others.
Underscoring the interest here in populist politician Geert Wilders, the court proceedings were broadcast live on Dutch public television. Wilders listened intently as his lawyer told judges that this trial was tiring for his client, who has other obligations as a member of the Dutch parliament.
Wilders is indeed an influential politician here: the current right-wing minority coalition is only able to govern with the informal support of his PVV party.
But it's Wilders' words that have landed him in court. He has called Islam "fascist" and compared the Koran to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf.
Wilders' attorney Bram Moszkowicz told judges that Wilders hasn't said or written anything disparaging about Muslims. Rather, he says, it's Islam and the Koran he has taken on, something that is allowed under Dutch regulations concerning freedom of speech.
The proceeding was not meant to determine guilt or innocence, but rather it was a largely technical hearing to figure out how the trial should proceed in the future.
Wilders' original trial began last October, but an appeals court ordered a re-trial after the politician argued that judges were biased.
Appearing before three new judges on Monday, Wilders' lawyer had several demands: He argued that the trial needs to start over and he wants to call more Islamists as witnesses. But prosecutors want the trial to pick up where it left off. Judges are expected to make their decision next week.
Last to appear in court was Geert Wilders himself: unapologetic and re-hashing his harsh criticisms of Islam.
The lights are going out all over Europe, he said, and it's because of Islam. An ideology that comes from the desert, he continued, can only create a desert.
Wilders maintains the trial is about nothing less than preserving freedom of expression in the West. Future generations will be the judge he said. As if already reaching out to them, he Twittered a similar message earlier in the day. In court, he ended his speech the same way he started his election campaign last year: saying it's his duty to speak the truth about that evil ideology called Islam. It's a message that proved immensely popular with Dutch voters, but which this court will ultimately have to decide if it's legal.