LONDON — A Dutch court found anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders guilty Friday of insulting an ethnic group and inciting discrimination after he led chants against Moroccans, a conviction he promptly denounced as “madness.”
Wilders, the controversial leader of the Netherlands’ far-right Freedom Party (PVV), said he plans to appeal the verdict delivered by a panel of three “hating” judges. His party is leading in polls ahead of the country’s upcoming general election in March.
“Three PVV hating judges declare that Moroccans are a race and convict me and half of the Netherlands. Madness,” he wrote in a Twitter message after the verdict.
In March 2014, Wilders sparked outrage at a rally in The Hague after asking supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccan immigrants in the Netherlands.
The crowd chanted: “Fewer! Fewer!” Wilders responded, “We’re going to organize that.” More than 6,400 people filed official complaints to the police, a sampling of which were read out in court.
The court imposed no punishment on Wilders, saying the conviction was punishment enough. The prosecution wanted to impose a fine of 5,000 euros ($5,288).
The “inflammatory” way statements were made at the rally encouraged others to discriminate against Moroccans, the court said, but it found there was “insufficient evidence” to convict Wilders of a separate charge of inciting hatred.
Wilders, 53, is one of a number of populist politicians across Europe who are riding a tide of anti-establishment anger, fueled in part by concerns over immigration and sluggish economies. The flamboyant Dutch politician has been compared to Donald Trump and sometimes uses the hashtag #MakeTheNetherlandsGreatAgain. On election night in the United States, he wrote on Twitter, “The people are taking their country back, so will we.”
If he becomes the next Dutch prime minister, Wilders has vowed to ban the Koran, close mosques and Islamic schools and stop immigration from Muslim countries. He has also said he would support a “Nexit” referendum, with the hopes that the Netherlands would follow Britain’s example and vote to leave the European Union.
Wilders boycotted much of the trial, but during a court appearance Nov. 23, he said that he had a right to free speech and accused rival politicians of conducting a “witch hunt.”
Wilders has also said the conviction would do little to silence him.
“Millions of Dutch are sick and tired of political correctness,” he said with his usual rhetorical flair in a video posted Friday on YouTube. “You can count on one thing — I will never be silent.”