Dutch anti-Islam opposition leader Geert Wilders boycotted the start of his trial on charges of hate speech and discrimination on Monday, and sent in a statement repeating his criticism of Moroccans.
The Freedom Party leader, who has dismissed the proceedings as politically motivated, is charged over his appearance at a local election rally in early 2014, when he was filmed leading chants for fewer Moroccans in the country and calling them scum.
“I haven’t said anything wrong,” read the statement from Wilders, whose party has attracted rising support in the build-up to March parliamentary elections.
“It is my right and my duty as a politician to speak about the problems in our country. Because the Netherlands has a mega Moroccan problem,” he added in the statement read out by one of his lawyers.
Wilders could face up to two years in jail and a fine of up to €7,400 if convicted of discrimination and inciting hatred of Moroccans – charges he denies.
Prosecutor Sabina van der Kallen told the court there was nothing political about the trial, saying her office was “purely driven by upholding the criminal laws established by our democracy”.
She said that Wilders’ standpoint that his remarks were exempt from hate speech rules due to his position as a politician was “a misconception, as shall become clear over the coming weeks”.
A verdict is due in December, around three months before elections, when Wilders is hoping to unseat Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD party, which rules in a fragile coalition with Labour.
An Oct. 27 poll suggested Wilders will double his party’s presence in the lower house, and trail Rutte by just two seats in the 150-seat legislature after the vote.
Although Wilders has never governed, his line on immigration and Islam has set the tone of political debate in the Netherlands for a decade.
Wilders’ statement on Monday said Moroccans made up a disproportionate share of welfare recipients and criminals in the country. He has argued he is only saying what his constituents think.
He was acquitted of inciting racial hatred in 2011 after he called for the Koran to be banned and for “criminal” Moroccans to be deported.
The Netherlands’ 400,000 Moroccans make up about 2 percent of the population.