Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Are they going to draw a line?

There is a general acceptance that Geert Wilders will be acquitted tomorrow on all charges after 29 months of legal struggle, which occasionally tipped over into black farce. Radio Netherlands gives quite a good summary of the developments here, explaining that, in the end it is the Dutch legal system that has found itself on trial.
Judicial system damaged
In the end, it was not Islam but the Dutch judicial system that came under the spotlight during the course of the trial. Three developments in particular have damaged the credibility of the judicial establishment.

First, the ruling of the Amsterdam court to prosecute Wilders was controversial in and of itself. The court made the ruling only after a special team at the national public prosecutor’s office had repeatedly decided not to prosecute Mr Wilders. This exposed an internal struggle between the district court and the justice ministry.

In that struggle, Amsterdam won the first round by forcing the trial to take place. But the justice ministry pushed back. They assigned two members of that same special team to conduct the prosecution at the trial in Amsterdam. Thus, Geert Wilders’ prosecutors were already on record as opposing his prosecution. And, indeed, during the trial they used the same argument, calling for Mr Wilders to be acquitted.

Attempt to silence Wilders
The second development was brought on by Mr Wilders’ defence. He and his lawyer have claimed that this trial is a politically motivated attempt to silence him. A strong accusation. But this claim became more plausible when the initial three judges hearing the trial were ruled to have demonstrated possible bias against Mr Wilders.

The trial had to resume with three new judges, but not before the Amsterdam district court went through an intensive process of self-reflection and public criticism.

That leaves the third development, one which again put the judicial system in a bad light: ‘the dinner’. For a few months, the trial focused on a social gathering involving the judge who wrote the decision to prosecute Mr Wilders and one of the three expert witnesses called by the defence. Allegations of witness tampering were shown to be unfounded, but the judge, and by extension the entire Amsterdam district court, came out looking na├»ve and amateurish.
Al-Jazeera agrees that Mr Wilders is likely to be acquitted. Their view is that the ending of this case will not end the debate about freedom of speech in the Netherlands (and, indeed, why should it?).
Whatever the verdict will be on Thursday, it seems clear that the debate about the limits of freedom of speech in the Netherlands will not be over.

Bas Paternotte, a political journalist for HP/De Tijd magazine and a frequent contributor to the highly popular right-wing shock-blog Geenstijl, argues that the Dutch political climate has shifted significantly over the past years.

"Fifteen years ago, Hans Janmaat [another extreme-right Dutch politician] was convicted for saying he wanted to abolish multiculturalism. Last week, the government said that multiculturalism has failed and that it will cut financial support for minority target groups. This is an evolution in thinking and political action and maybe the trial against Wilders is part of that same evolution."
This blog has followed the Wilders case (here, here partially, and here) as well as writing about Mr Wilders's electoral success, the attacks on him that, shamefully, included ones from the British media and his visit to Westminster to show his film Fitna to MPs and peers. Any reader who wishes to revisit those stories can follow this link.

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