The hate speech trial of Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders will start afresh after judges trying him were ordered to step down by a panel of their peers who upheld the politician’s bias claims.
“The trial will start afresh,” Amsterdam district court spokeswoman Mercedes Grootscholten told AFP after a panel of oversight judges said Wilders’ concerns of bias on the part of his trial judges were “understandable”.
Judge GH Marcus, the president of a panel convened to consider Wilders’ request for the judges’ recusal, said their denial of his request to recall a witness “appears to be in conflict with the applicable jurisprudence”.
“We find the applicant’s fear that the court’s decision points to a degree of bias … understandable,” the judge said.
Wilders, 47, went on trial on October 4 for inciting hatred by calling Islam “fascist” and likening the Koran to Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”.
There have been seven days of hearings so far. Judgement had been set for November 5.
But Wilders’ defence lawyer, Bram Moszkowicz, asked on Friday that the trial judges be removed, saying they had created “an impression of partiality”.
Being denied the opportunity to recall their defence witness would “make it impossible for the defence to substantiate a crucial part of its case”, the lawyer said on what should have been the last day of arguments in the trial broadcast live on the Internet.
Marcus agreed the judges’ decision not to allow the witness was “incomprehensible”.
“I will get a new, fair chance,” Wilders told journalists after the ruling.
Asked if his client was pleased with the process being dragged out, Moszkowicz said: “If Mr Wilders has to choose between judges who have the appearance of bias and a new trial with judges who do not have that appearance, the choice is easy to make.”
According to Grootscholten, a date for the retrial will be set after the new judges had been assigned.
“It will depend on the available dates of the defence, the prosecution and the new judges,” she said.
Wilders faces five counts of giving offence to Muslims and of inciting hatred against Muslims and people of non-Western immigrant origin, particularly Moroccans.
The politician, who will give parliamentary support to a new, rightist coalition government, risks up to a year in jail or a 7,600-euro fine for comments made in his campaign to “stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands”.
The prosecution and defence have both asked for Wilders’ acquittal, while Muslims have told the court he was “dangerous” and should be reined in.
Prosecutors, who initially dismissed dozens of complaints against him in June 2008, told the court on October 15 that Wilders’ statements, though hurtful, were not criminal.
Appeals judges ordered in January 2009 that Wilders stand trial as his utterances amounted to “sowing hatred” — compelling an unwilling prosecution to mount a case against him.
Moszkowicz on Friday wanted to recall defence witness Hans Jansen, a so-called “Arab expert” who claimed in an interview published in a Dutch newspaper on Friday that one of the appeals judges had tried to convince him at a dinner of the necessity of putting Wilders on trial.
Dutch news agency ANP said Wilders had brought charges against the judge in question for legal interference.
Wilders has already sought his judges’ recusal once before, complaining at the start of his trial about their reaction to his decision to rely on his right to remain silent.