FILE - Populist anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders prepares to address judges at the high-security court near Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam.
FILE - Populist anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders prepares to address judges at the high-security court near Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam.

LONDON - Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders has been found guilty of insulting Moroccans and inciting discrimination; but, he will not face any penalty or jail sentence – leaving him free to run in elections due next March. Observers say the trial could actually boost Wilders’ chances of victory as he seeks to ride a wave of right-wing populism in Europe.

During the trial, the court was shown a video of the political rally in 2014 when Geert Wilders made the remarks that led to his conviction. Wilders asked the crowd of supporters if they wanted “fewer or more Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands. The crowd shouted back: "Fewer! Fewer!" Wilders replied, "We're going to take care of that."

After a three-week trial, judges found him guilty of insulting a group and inciting discrimination – but cleared him of inciting hatred. In a video posted online after the verdict, Wilders accused the court of political bias.

“You can count on it. I will never be silent, and this conviction only makes me stronger," he said. "This is a shameful sentence, which, of course, I will appeal; but, I can tell you, I am now more vigorous than ever.”


Party leadership

Despite the conviction, Wilders can lead his Freedom Party into parliamentary elections due in March – and his chances of victory are high, says Andrea Mammone, an expert on far-right politics at Royal Holloway, University of London.

“There is no one else that is so popular as him. Really, this is a one-man show," Mammone said. " Elections will run as usual and he might actually win.”

Wilders' comments triggered anti-racist protests in 2014 and police received more than 6,000 complaints. Around 2 percent of the Dutch population are of Moroccan origin.

During the trial, Wilders said that it was legitimate to debate how many Moroccans should live in the country.

He told the court that worldwide, a movement has started which puts an end to the politically correct doctrines from those elites and the media dependent on them. Brexit proved this, as the U.S. elections, he added.

Anti-Islam views

Wilders used the trial as a platform to spread his anti-Islam views – and Mammone says the court appearances may actually help Wilders' election chances.

“I think a lot of this has to do with the fear of the population, with the perception that the country is losing something as a nation state, that there are too many immigrants, that there are too many refugees, that there is too much inequality – even when there is no inequality," Mammone said.

Wilders’ Freedom Party leads Dutch polls by as much as 10 percent.  He is a strong opponent of the European Union – and a victory for him in one of the EU’s founding member states would plunge the bloc deeper into political crisis.