On Friday, prominent Dutch parliamentarian, Geert Wilders, had his verdict returned to him from his hate speech trial in which the court found him guilty of inciting discrimination stemming from comments he made in 2014 criticizing Moroccan immigrants to the Netherlands.
The Dutch court could have fined Mr. Wilders thousands of Euros, but decided not to pursue punitive punishments beyond the criminal verdict. Believing that for a man in Wilders’ position, a prominent politician that has lived under around the clock police protection and had endless death threats for over a decade, such a symbolic sentence was enough.
This ruling could not come at a more crucial time for Wilders, or Europe as a whole.
He is the leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV), a right wing populist party that, as of today, tops the polls. This is an indication that the party will likely take a plurality of seats in the Dutch House of Representatives this coming March, when elections are scheduled to be held. This win could make Mr. Wilders Prime Minister, something that still could be blocked, though, if opposition parties unify to keep him out of power. Regardless of the outcome, as the populist right surges in America and Europe, Wilders will be playing a bigger role in shaping European and even world affairs.
His trial has been a symbolic event of the ongoing battle to preserve free speech in the Western world. A battle that today has seen a major blow to the defenders of civil liberty. But all hope is not lost, as according to one poll a majority of Dutch citizens disagree with the trial and its guilty verdict. While also the trial, as seen by Wilders, was a political attack aimed to discredit him and decrease his popularity may well of backfired if that were the case, as the recent poll numbers that have seen his party surge into the lead have come since the trial began. Likely out of sympathy for and solidarity with a man that many Dutch think is being unfairly targeted, even if they themselves disagree with him.
So, if anything, the trail and the reaction in its aftermath tells us that while free speech may not be dead in Europe, it is dizzy and on the ropes after the clobbering it has faced. Therefore, we must keep up the fight against the suppression of our fundamental right of freedom of speech, and not only in Europe where courts are convicting men like Wilders. Across the pond, America is facing her own dilemmas where prominent former Democratic nominee for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, recently called for federal action to be taken on “fake news”.
The fight is global, and far from over. Stay strong.
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