Liberty on Trial in Dutch Court

From The Legal Project

by Aaron Eitan Meyer

On January 7th, it was reported that Minnesota prosecutors had declined to prosecute a man who had posted anti-Muslim images, on the grounds that it was, as Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall aptly put it, a “classic First Amendment case.” Indeed, the case would only have been significant if prosecutors had attempted to bring charges.

In marked contrast, the upcoming criminal trial of Dutch politician Geert Wilders for having “intentionally offended a group of people, i.e. Muslims,” and the potential of a two-year prison sentence for this ‘crime,’ is nearly unfathomable.

Under the Dutch Penal Code, if the court finds that Wilders made his statements as part of his “profession or habit,” he could face up to two years in prison, which makes the charge analogous to a felony under US law.

In short, the Wilders trial, which is scheduled to begin on January 20th, will provide a litmus test as to whether the Netherlands, and to an extent Europe, is moving towards protecting or criminalizing the free speech America has always understood to be a fundamental bulwark of liberty. We can only hope that the Netherlands chooses to defend the right to speak critically of others without the fear of imprisonment.

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