This is now the 20th trial day in the trial against Mr. Wilders. Today it was the prosecutions turn to plea. Again it was an elaborated, detailed, dry and longwinded plea that was hard to follow for the layperson. Just like the last time, the prosecution again asked for: NOT GUILTY on all counts.
The consensus is that the judges will rule like wise. But would you sleep any better if you were the defended? Even if Mr. Wilders wins this trial, he still lost more than 20 days of his live in trial and many more in the preparation of it. Also, even if the judge follows the prosecutions plea, that does not automatically mean Mr. Wilders and Free Speech in general is of the hook either. Other trials may follow, either against Mr. Wilders or others. That’s why the argumentation of this court decision is so important; this trial is about case law.
So where do we stand? Well the length and complexity of the prosecutions plea seems a good indication of how the situation with free speech now is in The Netherlands: very, very difficult. You can be prosecuted for giving your opinions about Islam and if the court would follow all arguments of the prosecution it becomes very risky to say too much about it.
Also I would like the readers to remember that one of the prosecutors, now asking for not guilty against Mr. Wilders is the infamous Mr. Velleman. That’s the prosecutors who send a nightly SWAT team to raid the home of a Dutch cartoonist for making Mohammed cartoons. The cartoonist was put him in jail but Velleman never brought his case to trial, holding a possible trial for year dangling above the head of the cartoonist. The cartoonist went fairly silent after that treatment.
As expected such a prosecutor is not very neutral to Mr. Wilders. Thus the prosecution described Mr. Wilders his arguments as one sided (one of their criteria for inadmissible speech), rude and offensive. But the prosecutors found Mr. Wilders his proposal for stopping immigration of non-Western immigrants harder to judge. They considered the proposal discriminator but as he was advocating a policy and did not actually try to convince people into acting in this racist manner, they thought it was admissible speech. Because according to the prosecution it was allowed to persuade people into a racist and discriminatory mind set, as long as you did not try to convince those people into actually acting racist.
Prosecutor: "The party program of the PVV is discriminator"
The prosecution also explained the court what Wilders meant with his movie Fitna and said among other things: Wilders shows violence that is the result of Islam, directed against people, both Muslims as non-Muslims. In the movie Muslims are shown as the instruments of Islam.
But there was also room for some laughs, the prosecution and the president of the court joked about 11 September (the Vienna one) in reference to presidents statement of yesterday. Not sure what was so funny about it, just thought it was noteworthy.
So what did we learn today? Well we now know a little more about what is admissible when we speak about Islam. Although we know not all the rules, because I can’t give an adequate summery of an 8 hour legal explanation, you at least have to know these rules:
- Politicians can be prosecuted like regular people for speech offenses.
- But regular folks have less free speech than politicians
- An offensive argument that supports your cause is more likely to be allowed than an offensive argument that does not support you point very well
- It is allowed to make people think racist and discriminatory, but it is not admissible to convince them to act racist or discriminatory.
- It’s not allowed to say that we are in an intrinsically conflict with others (forbidden: the Nazis will exterminate us).
- Politicians are not allowed to propose solutions that are deemed excessive in relation to the problems they say it solves.
- Not what you say, but what it might provoke in others is what determines the legality of your speech.
- Remember some speech is only allowed because the current state of the debate in Europe allows it (so please don’t say to many innovative things)
After the prosecution was finished around 17:00 the court decided to continue with councilor-complainants Nico Steijnen and Erik Olof. The courts behavior to these counselors gave us some interesting insights in the courts ideas about free speech.
These councilor-complainants are of course the extreme leftist and Muslim activist lawyers who had forced this court case in the first place. You can imagine that these lawyers were not very happy with the prosecutions plea for a not guilty. If these activist lawyers had their way, they would act as second prosecutors in this court case (that’s what they tried in the earlier court case).
But the law does give them a very specific role in a criminal trial. In a criminal trial the victims are only allowed to talk about damage done and request compensation (an idea that grew out of the frustration that victims had to start a costly civil suite for getting compensation for damages done). It’s of course the court’s responsibility to prevent abuse of this arrangement.
So the court decided to act pro-actively. Amazingly they decided to censor the lawyers. Thus instead of waiting what the councilor-complainant were going to bring in front of the court, they asked the lawyers to hand over their pleas. Then the court took as short recess, during which they quickly reviewed the plea and marked all sections they deemed not admissible in court. Then they asked the lawyers to hold their original plea but without the market sections. When the lawyer clumsy asked for making another ad hoc plea, the court president repeatedly pressed him for just making the censored plea.
It’s not hard to imagine how confusing a half censored Marxist rambling sound. Well, it was shorter, less structured but still much more than a plea for damages done. It can best be described as repetitive hate speech propaganda that tried to massage the brain with the message that evil Geert Wilders had to be stopped before he grabbed power and become an existential threat to all of us. If one would apply the same legal standards, as laid out by the prosecution today, to this court rant, you would have quite strong case for prosecution.
Logically the rand led to complaints of defense lawyer Moszkowicz. Although it was his first complaint in today’s session, it angered the court; the courts president snapped that he was only slowing things down with his complaints. The president said he did not stop the councilor because the court would just ignore all the inadmissible statements he would make (although the defense would never know what and what not they would considered allowed, making a defense against the allegations very hard). But the defense lawyer stood his ground and complaint he was not in a hurry, all he wanted was a fair trial even if that meant they would have to stay until midnight. The court ignored him.
The trial ended at 19:00, next session is Friday May 27, 2011.
All Wilders Trial blog posts
Wilders Trial day 19: Judge praises Turks for Viennese coffee
Others on this trial day:
Expatica - Prosecutors again call for anti-Islam lawmaker's acquittal