Geert Wilders pulls no punches in courtroom

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Geert Wilders did not pull any punches in a courtroom reaction during the preliminary hearing of his trial on charges of inciting hatred. On the first day of the trial in a courtroom in Amsterdam, a few hundred people protested quietly outside the building, while the lawyers inside presented their plans.

Between two and three hundred people turned up to support Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders. Police were out in force, but had little to keep them occupied. The protesters were well behaved and peaceful.

Some even seemed to surprise themselves when they shouted P-V-V as Geert Wilders' colleague parliamentarians entered the courtroom (PVV are the Dutch initials for the Freedom Party). For the three hours that followed, the atmosphere was relaxed and conversational. This is in stark contrast to the tone Mr Wilders set in the courtroom at the end of the day.

The price of liberty
Speaking to the three judges of the Amsterdam District Court, Mr Wilders gave a rousing oratory on the defence of liberty. He said he has devoted his life to protecting freedom, and is paying the price for it every day. Quoting the third American president Thomas Jefferson, Wilders said eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Mr Wilders' oration was particularly striking in that it followed a day of legalistic to and fro among his defence lawyer, the two public prosecutors, and the senior judge. The preliminary hearing gives the court the chance to learn how the two sides plan to conduct their cases. The trial will start in earnest on an as-yet to be determined date.

Seventeen witnesses
The Freedom Party leader closed his talk with an appeal to the court to allow all seventeen witnesses he would like to call to testify. The public prosecutor had objected to the number, perhaps fearing a months-long seminar on anti-Islamic sentiments.

But Wilders responded by telling the judges: allow all my witnesses, or there can be no question of a fair trial.

This presents the three judges with a challenge. Jan Moors, the senior judge of the three judge panel, indicated in his tone and body language that he wants to be as impartial as possible.

Political process
Mr Wilders and his followers have said this trial is politically motivated. There is no evidence to show that this is the case, but the very fact that a popular politician is facing charges politicises the process.

If that is not enough, the judges on the Amsterdam District Court have another reason for being careful. It was three of their colleagues at the district court who wrote the decision last year to bring charges against Mr Wilders. Some who read that decision say those three judges had already found Mr Wilders to be guilty.

Judge Moors closed the hearing by announcing the court would need two weeks to decide on how the trial will proceed. Two weeks for Geert Wilders' challenge to the judges to echo around the country.