Dutch prosecutors seek acquittal of anti-Islam MP

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Dutch prosecutors sought anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders's acquittal on five hate speech charges Friday, saying his criticism of the Muslim religion, though hurtful to some, was not criminal.

"Criticism (of religion) is allowed," prosecutor Birgit van Roessel told the Amsterdam district court as she and a colleague took turns to tell the court: "We ask for his acquittal" on each of five charges on the indictment.

"It would be hurtful to many Muslims when Wilders calls for a ban on the Koran," she said. "But the feelings of this group can play no role in determining the facts of the case."

Wilders went on trial last Monday for calling Islam "fascist" and likening the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf".

On Tuesday, the prosecution had sought Wilders's acquittal of the first of the five charges against him -- giving offence to Muslims, and asked judges not to award damages to his accusers.

On Friday, they also asked for him to be cleared of the remaining four charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims and people of non-Western immigrant origin, particularly Moroccans.

Though his stated plan to close the Dutch borders to Muslims should he become prime minister may seem "disgraceful, inhumane", it did not amount to hate speech, argued Van Roessel.

Criticism of religion could never be punishable, she added.

"The wounding of feelings, religious feelings, plays no role" in the trial.

In June 2008, the Dutch prosecution service dismissed dozens of complaints against the politician from individuals around the country, citing his right to freedom of speech.

But appeals judges ordered in January 2009 that he stand trial as his utterances amounted to "sowing hatred" -- compelling the prosecution to mount a case against him.

Wilders, a shadow partner of the new, rightist coalition government inaugurated on Thursday, is on trial for calling Islam "fascist" and likening the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf".

Among other statements, Wilders, 47, stating that Muslims should conform to the "dominant culture" or be put out of the country.

"He expects an adaptation from Muslims. We can see this as unnecessary, unreasonable and even shameful ... but it does not amount to incitement to hatred," Van Roessel said.

The controversial politician, known for his signature shock of dyed-blonde hair, risks up to a year in jail or a 7,600-euro fine for comments made between October 2006 and March 2008 in Dutch newspapers and on Internet forums.

Among the exhibits is Wilders's 17-minute film, "Fitna", alleged to depict Islam as a force bent on destroying the West and whose screening in the Netherlands in 2008 prompted protests in much of the Muslim world.

The target of death threats, Wilders enjoys 24-hour state-sponsored protection while pursuing his mission to "stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands".

He campaigns for a stop to Muslim immigration, a ban on the construction of new mosques, and a tax on headscarves.

Wilders was temporarily banned from Britain last year on race hate grounds.

His Party for Freedom has signed a pact to provide a minority cabinet of the Christian Democrats and liberals with the votes they need in parliament in return for a voice in policy formation.

Under the deal, the new government has committed itself to taking up Wilders's proposals to ban the burqa and slash immigration.

Wilders' accusers will make their case to the court next Monday, followed by his defence starting on Tuesday.

Judgment is expected on November 5.