The Tide Turns for Geert Wilders?
by Ann Snyder • Oct 22, 2010 at 12:04 pm
The tide may finally have turned in the trial of Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, who is being prosecuted for "hate speech" for expressing his views on Islam.
This week, Wilders' team has been presenting his defense in the afterglow of last week's statement by prosecutors that all charges against Wilders should be dropped, in part, on the basis that he made his remarks "as a politician…within the context of public debate."
However, the final decision remains in the hands of the court whose ruling is expected by November 5, 2010.
At this moment, despite the prosecution's call for dismissal, Wilders still faces potential fines and imprisonment for expressing his views. Even if, as is expected, this fiasco ends with a verdict in Wilders' favor, one must wonder if freedom of speech is really protected in a country where such a trial can go forward in the first place. Given what has happened to Wilders, others will undoubtedly be silenced for fear of facing the same ordeal.
Interestingly, some of the prosecution's reasons for requesting dismissal hinted at why Wilders should never have been charged to begin with. Wilders is a politician speaking about matters of public interest in the midst of an active public debate on those issues. Yes, those issues are controversial. That is often the case with topics that are the subject of public debate. But, if free speech rights are to mean anything, they must protect speech in this context.
To that end, it is no accident that American jurisprudence and scholarship on the subject speaks to the elevated importance of political speech. So important is open public debate that the US Constitution gives members of Congress absolute protection for statements delivered on the floor of either House. Hate speech laws run counter to laws and traditions that support healthy, open debate. The trial of Wilders should be a wake up call to the Dutch to jettison the concept of legally enforced political correctness embodied in "hate speech" laws.
Update 10/22/10 - In a stunning development, a retrial has been ordered after the panel of judges hearing the case was determined to be biased. This point was raised early on by Wilders' able counsel Bram Moszkowic and rejected. Now, new evidence has emerged of an improper meeting between one of the judges and a potential expert witness on Islam. It could be months before a new trial commences. The unending litigation only amplifies the chilling effect such prosecutions have on free speech.
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