By Anthony Deutsch
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Dutch prosecutors demanded on Thursday that the anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders be fined 5,000 euros ($5,400) on charges of hate speech and discrimination. No prison sentence was sought.
Wilders faces charges of discrimination and inciting racial hatred at a rally in 2014, where he led supporters in chanting that they wanted fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands. He denies wrongdoing in the case, which comes four months before national elections.
The prosecution’s demand is likely be dismissed by opponents of Wilders as too light. The maximum punishment under Dutch law is two years in prison.
As prosecutors spoke, lawmakers in Wilders’ far-right Freedom Party walked onto the floor of parliament to protest. They held up a giant picture of Wilders with a red “X” over his mouth, a reference to limited free speech.
“”According to the elite, speaking out about the largest problem in our country, the Moroccan problem, is now a crime. We will slowly, but surely, lose our right to free speech,” Wilders said in a reaction.
“Moroccans are all of a sudden a race, so if you say anything about Moroccans you are a racist. No one understands that. It’s total insanity,” he said.
Prosecutors said in court they had proved that the comments made during regional campaigning were planned and intended to target a specific ethnic group – a violation of the constitution.
In a televised incident on March 19, 2014, Wilders asked supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans. They chanted “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” A smiling Wilders responded, “We’ll take care of that.”
Wilders is virtually tied in opinion polls with the liberal VVD party of conservative Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who has said Wilders will be his main opponent when the Netherlands picks a new parliament on March 15.
Prosecutors argued that Wilders had set up the scene and intentionally had his speech climax with a rhetorical question that would incite the crowd and attract media attention.
The Netherlands’ 400,000 Moroccans make up about 2 percent of the population.
Although Wilders has never been in power, his anti-Islam, anti-EU policies have won him widespread public support. His tough stance on immigration has set the national agenda for a decade.
Prosecutors asked that his lack of remorse be considered when they render their judgment, most likely next month.
(Additional reporting By Thomas Escritt, editing by Larry King)