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MIDDLE EAST: Maker of Dutch film "Fitna" to face trial

January 23, 2009 | 10:30 am


The movie provoked anger among Muslims all over the world last year. 

But the Dutch maker of “Fitna,” a short film that equated Islam with terrorism, had managed to escape legal troubles.

No longer.

The right-wing lawmaker Geert Wilders will have to answer to a Dutch court for what advocates said were his statements that incited hatred and discrimination against Muslims.

The Amsterdam appeals court on Wednesday issued a written judgment ordering prosecutors to put Wilders on trial:

By attacking the symbols of the Muslim religion, he also insulted Muslim believers.... In a democratic system, hate speech is considered to be so serious that it is in the general interest to ... draw a clear line.

In remarks he made to the Dutch Volkskrant newspaper, Wilders had compared Islam to Nazism and called for the religion’s holy book, the Koran, to be banned in the Netherlands, like Hitler's "Mein Kampf."

His 15-minute film "Fitna" aired on the Internet in March 2008. It tried to show that Islam inspires its followers to commit acts of violence against adherents of other faiths, particularly Jews. 

Muslims around the world complained that the movie desecrated their faith. But the Dutch public prosecutor ruled last year after six months of investigations that Wilders had not committed any offense punishable by law.

The appeals court disagreed, approving a prosecution.

In an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz published Friday, Wilders expressed fear of being jailed and said the decision was strictly political:

Things are not looking good for me. In its 33-page ruling ordering my prosecution, the appeals court already determined I was guilty. Now the case will be reviewed by a lower court and there's every chance the judge will align his ruling with the appeals courts....  I hope this thing doesn't end behind bars.

Muslims, mostly from Turkey and Morocco, constitute around 6% of the Dutch population.

In recent years, relations between the country's Muslims and the rest of the population have soured, especially after the assassination of Dutch director Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam in 2004. He had expressed views critical of Islam.

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: Dutch politician Geert Wilders talking to the press at his office in The Hague on Wednesday. Wilders, who has made a short film accusing the Koran of inciting violence, must be prosecuted for anti-Islam comments, an Amsterdam court announced. Credit: Robert Vos / EPA