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Dutch populist lawmaker Wilders slams his trial as 'charade'

Associated Press Associated Press 23/11/2016 By MIKE CORDER, Associated Press
Populist anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders prepares to address judges at the high-security court near Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, during his hate-speech trial that pits freedom of expression against the Netherlands' anti-discrimination laws. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong) © The Associated Press Populist anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders prepares to address judges at the high-security court near Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, during his hate-speech trial that pits freedom of expression against the Netherlands' anti-discrimination laws. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Populist anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders delivered a fiery closing statement Wednesday at his hate speech trial, slamming his prosecution as a "charade, a disgrace for the Netherlands, a mockery for our society" that threatens freedom of speech.

Wilders, whose party is riding high in Dutch opinion polls, told a three-judge panel sitting in a heavily guarded courtroom on the outskirts of Amsterdam that, as an elected lawmaker, he must be able to talk about the "mega-Moroccan problem" in the Netherlands and would not be muzzled by what he branded a political trial.

In an address that sounded as much like a campaign speech ahead of Dutch Parliamentary elections due in March as a legal defense, Wilders cast himself as part of a swelling global anti-establishment movement that already has manifested itself in the British vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election.

"Worldwide, a movement has started that is making short shrift of the politically correct doctrines of the elite and their subordinate media," Wilders said. "Brexit proved it. The American election proved it."

And, turning to upcoming elections and votes across Europe, he added that, "It is about to be proven in Austria and Italy. Next year it will also be proven in France, Germany and, yes, also in the Netherlands."

The politically charged prosecution centers on comments Wilders made before and after the Dutch municipal elections in 2014. At one meeting in a Hague cafe, he asked supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands. That sparked a chant of "Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!" — to which he replied "we'll take care of it."

Prosecutors say that Wilders, who in the past has been acquitted at another hate speech trial for his outspoken criticism of Islam, overstepped the limits of free speech by specifically targeting Moroccans.

But he insisted that the election night speech was in line with his Freedom Party's long-held policy ambitions of expelling criminals with Moroccan nationality, reining in immigration and encouraging voluntary repatriation.

The court will deliver its verdict and sentence Dec. 9. Prosecutors have asked judges to convict Wilders and fine him 5,000 euros ($5,265).

Earlier Wednesday, prosecutor Wouter Bos urged judges to reject arguments put forward by Wilders' lawyers that convicting the popular lawmaker would put the Netherlands on a slippery slope to totalitarianism.

"In the Netherlands there is no unlimited freedom of speech," Bos told the three-judge panel. "We will not become a totalitarian state if you convict."

Wilders, in turn, harked back to his country's long history of free speech and tolerance as he called on judges to acquit him.

"Freedom of speech is our pride," he said. "And that, precisely that, is at stake here, today."

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