AMSTERDAM (CN) — Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders lost his appeal of a criminal conviction for insulting a population group on Friday, but again he faced no punishment.
One of Europe’s most prominent anti-immigration politicians, Wilders’ conviction of “groepsbelediging” – or group insult – was upheld by the The Hague Court of Appeal, but the judges struck down two other charges, including inciting racial hatred, stemming from a 2014 incident in which he told supporters he could ensure that fewer people of Moroccan-origin would live in the country if he was elected to a local office.
“He’s been paying a high price for communicating his opinion for years,” Presiding Judge Jan Maarten Reinking said, explaining the court’s decision to once again not fine or sentence Wilders to any jail time.
The public prosecutor had asked for Wilders to pay a 5,000 euro ($5,900) fine.
“We are glad that a signal has been given that politicians cannot say everything,” a representative of the prosecution team told reporters after the hearing.
Wilders, famous for his dyed blonde coiffure of hair, appealed his 2016 conviction despite not being given a punishment, calling the verdict “completely nuts” and accusing the judges of political bias.
“The Netherlands has become a banana republic,” he told reporters after the hearing, and went on to say that he would appeal the verdict to the Netherlands’ highest court.
The appeal has dragged on for years while judges of The Hague Court of Appeal considered the allegation from Wilders’ legal team that the charge was politically motivated after leaked emails from the Dutch justice department showed officials encouraging the public prosecutor to move forward with bringing the case.
“Is the public prosecution service convinced of the desirability and feasibility of prosecution?” then-Minister of Justice Ivo Opstelten wrote to the Board of Attorneys General, which oversees the prosecution service.
Wilders’ conviction stems from a 2014 campaign rally where he asked supporters if they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the country. “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” the crowded replied, to which Wilders said: “We’re going to take care of that.” The charge – groepsbelediging – means deliberately insulting a group of people because of their race, religion, orientation or belief system.
The member of parliament has repeatedly denied that he had insulted a group, arguing he was only referring to the criminal element within the Dutch-Moroccan community. The platform of The Freedom Party, which he founded, calls for a ban on immigration from Islamic countries and criminalizing dual-nationality.
“Look at what has happened in our country, in The Hague, in Utrecht in recent weeks. Our neighborhoods were set on fire, the police attacked. It was not only Moroccans who did that, but the majority were,” Wilders told the court in his final statement last week. He was referring to several incidents of hooliganism in the summer, where teenagers opened fire hydrants and threw stones at police.
People of Moroccan origin make up about 2% of the Dutch population. They are the second-largest immigrant group in the country, after people with Turkish heritage. The Dutch economy experienced a labor shortage in the 1950s and 1960s and the government turned to importing workers from Turkey and Morocco to fill the gap. Many of those people ultimately settled in the country, bringing their families with them.