When freedom of expression makes way for racism

Geert Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, has just managed to overthrow the panel of judges that were in charge of his appeal. His weapon? The age-old freedom of expression argument. 

Lara Bullens
Lara Bullens NewsMavens, Western Europe
When freedom of expression makes way for racism - NewsMavens
Geert Wilders. Wikicommons.

Why this story matters:

At a rally in 2014, Wilders looked to his supporters and asked them whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in their country. In a racist uproar, they chanted: "Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!" and Wilders, like a genie in a bottle, answered their calls by promising that he would "take care of that". 

Although he was criminally convicted for this hate speech in 2016, Wilders was never fined or sentenced for his racist outbursts. In fact, he is so righteous that he started an appeal against these convictions a few days ago. 

The problem herein lies not in the fact that Wilders is the country's bad seed, but in a simple and age-old debate: when does freedom of expression end and racist hate speech begin? 

In this case, it's quite clear that Wilders is using this as a tactic to save his own skin. The Netherlands and the European Court of Human Rights need to crack down on creating strong and clear legal protection of both freedom of speech and the prohibition of race hate. If not, politicians like Wilders will just keep on keeping on. 

Details from the story:

  • In 2016, Geert Wilders was convicted for inciting discrimination and insulting the Moroccan population in the Netherlands.
  • At a 2014 rally for his Party for Freedom, he asked supporters if they wanted more or fewer Moroccan people in the country. They chanted “fewer” and Wilders promised to “make that happen”
  • The court never fined or sentenced Wilders, claiming that criminal conviction was “enough”.
  • Wilders has just started his appeal on the discrimination conviction, arguing that it hinders his right to freedom of expression.
  • He will get new judges in his court case, after his independent legal team managed to have them removed.
  • Last Friday they were removed because, according to Wilders and his lawyer, the panel was biased.
  • The original judges rejected his request to gather more witnesses and carry out further investigations in his appeal case.
  • Wilders wants to use the court’s decision not to prosecute Alexander Pechtold, D66 leader, for comments he made about Russians as a way to support his own case, arguing that the panel of judges is biased.
  • The change in judge panel will delay the trial, which was only supposed to last for a maximum of 11 days.
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