Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders goes on trial
The Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders has gone on trial in Amsterdam accused of inciting hatred against Muslims.
Mr Wilders, whose statements have included comparing the Koran with Hitler's Mein Kampf, told the court freedom of expression was on trial.
If found guilty, he faces a maximum sentence of a year in jail.
Mr Wilders' Freedom Party is the third biggest in the Netherlands after June's elections, and is expected to play a key role in the next parliament.
Prosecutors have brought five charges of inciting hatred and discrimination, and the trial will scrutinise statements he made between 2006 and 2008.
Geert Wilders is defending his right to freedom of speech, which lies at the heart of the Dutch constitution. He believes he's said nothing offensive. He says his trial is a political process.
And he says it will not deter him from his mission, which is to stop the "Islamisation" of the Netherlands.
This trial is setting a precedent - judges said that in a democratic system, it is in the general interest to draw a clear line on the limits of hate speech.
And it comes at a time when Geert Wilders occupies a more crucial role, and enjoys a higher-profile, than ever. He is set to become a shadow partner in the next coalition government - giving tacit support to a minority cabinet.
But the three parties, including Mr Wilders', would only control 76 of the 150 seats in parliament, so any MPs who break ranks threaten the coalition. And two Christian Democrats say they are opposed to the deal.
In one such statement, in an opinion piece for the De Volkskrant newspaper, he wrote: "I've had enough of Islam in the Netherlands; let not one more Muslim immigrate.
"I've had enough of the Koran in the Netherlands: Forbid that fascist book."
In 2008, he released a short film called Fitna which infuriated Muslims by juxtaposing images of suicide bombings with verses from the Koran.
Mr Wilders, in a bright blue tie and with his trademark shock of blond hair, waved to supporters as he entered the court complex in Amsterdam.
A small group of protesters had gathered outside court and riot police were on duty nearby.
In an opening statement, he told the court that he was being persecuted for "stating my opinion in the context of public debate", adding: "I can assure you, I will continue proclaiming it."
His lawyer, Bram Moszkowicz, then told the presiding judge that Mr Wilders would thereafter exercise his right to silence and not answer questions during the trial.
When presiding judge Jan Moors said it appeared Mr Wilders was "avoiding discussion" Mr Moszkowicz accused him of bias and moved to have him substituted.
- Leader of Freedom Party; has 24 MPs after June 2010 election
- Supports banning Koran and Muslim full-face veil; opposes immigration from Muslim countries
- Aged 47, brought up Catholic but is reportedly atheist
- Briefly banned from UK in 2009 for posing a security threat
The trial was adjourned and a separate hearing arranged to decide whether Judge Moors could continue on the trial. The panel is expected to decide on the issue on Tuesday.
Earlier, Mr Wilders gave his views via his Twitter account, calling it a "terrible day".
"The freedom of expression of at least 1.5 million people is standing trial together with me," he wrote, in what seemed to be a reference to the number of voters who backed the Freedom Party in June.
The coalition deal that emerged last week joins two centre-right parties in a minority government, which will seek the backing of parliament this week.
But, holding only 52 of the 150 seats in parliament, they will depend on the support of 24 Freedom Party MPs to pass legislation.
In return for that support, he has already extracted policy concessions. The new government has said it will try to ban the Islamic face veil, and curb immigration.
It is not clear whether a conviction for Mr Wilders would affect the government's willingness to deal with him.
Mr Wilders has infuriated opponents not just with his opinions, but with language they see as inflammatory, such as stating that Muslim headscarves, which he referred to as "head rags", ought to be taxed for "polluting" the Dutch landscape.
Mr Wilders was briefly refused entry to Britain last year, after being invited to show his film in the House of Lords.
Having received numerous death threats, he is usually surrounded by bodyguards.
A verdict in the trial is expected on 4 November.