Dutch politician Geert Wilders has appeared in an Amsterdam court on charges of incitement and discrimination against Muslims for his comments about Islam and for an anti-Muslim film he made. 

The trial in the Netherlands is being closely watched around the world, because it pits the right to free speech against religious freedom and freedom against persecution.

The defendant is Dutch politician Geert Wilders, whose remarks against Islam and Muslims, and his anti-Islamic movie, Fitna, have offended many Muslims around the world.

At the Amsterdam courthouse where he went on trial, the presiding judge made a short address.

The judge told Wilders that he is considered a suspect, which means he does not have to answer any questions.

Opening arguments in the trial are scheduled to begin in March.  Wilders' lawyer told the court that the charges against the politician should be dismissed.

At issue are more than 100 anti-Islamic statements Wilders has made in public.  They include demands that the Muslim holy book, the Koran, be banned from the Netherlands.  Wilder's 2008 movie, Fitna, juxtaposed images of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States with verses from the Koran.  He has also called the Islamic culture "retarded."

Along with outrage, Wilders' comments have struck a chord among some Dutch.  Esmeralda Hannink joined pro-Wilders protesters outside the Amsterdam courthouse.

"He is the only man in Holland, in politics, who says this must stop," said Hannink. "Islamization must stop now because its not good for the opinion, for people."

But Muslims and anti-racist groups argue that Wilders' remarks feed social tensions in the Netherlands, where Muslims make up about six percent of country's 15 million people.

If found guilty, Wilders could be fined or sent to prison.