From the Legal Project
By Aaron Eitan Meyer
In a brief courtroom session today, Amsterdam’s District Court found it had jurisdiction to hear the case against Geert Wilders for “inciting hatred,” and further announced it would allow only 3 of the 18 witnesses Wilders had requested.
Wilders had sought three categories of witnesses: 5 free speech experts, 8 Islam experts, and 5 “experiential experts.” This latter category consisted of various Islamists, including Theo van Gogh’s murderer, a Dutch imam who had unsuccessfully tried to sue Wilders, and the Egyptian fundamentalist Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
The court decided to permit only the three Islam experts to testify: Johannes Jansen, Simon Admiraal and Wafa Sultan. In fairness, barring the Islamist witnesses is perhaps excusable. Presumably none would be willing to testify voluntarily, and only one resides freely in the Netherlands. What is much more troubling is the court’s refusal to hear from any of Wilders’ five free speech experts – all of whom would likely have appeared voluntarily.
The criminal case against Wilders revolves around freedom of speech and whether it may be abridged to serve other values such as social cohesion. Wilders’ experts would have offered testimony directly on point: Professor Tom Zwart is a human rights expert, Professor Afshin Ellian teaches Social Cohesion, Citizenship and Multiculturalism, and Professor Andras Sajo sits on the European Court of Human Rights. The two remaining witnesses, Professors Henny Sackers and Theo De Roos are experts in criminal law and procedure.
Indeed, the Public Prosecutor, which is reluctantly pursuing this case at the order of an Amsterdam appellate court, expressed interest in hearing professors Zwart, Ellian and Sajo testify. That the court nevertheless refused to hear from any of these experts feeds the impression that that this is a results-driven exercise rather than a serious impartial attempt to wrestle with the profound issues presented.
Fortunately, the trial is still in its early stages, so the court has time to salvage some legitimacy. Unfortunately, when a court indicates a lack of interest in the fundamental legal rights at issue, seeing the trial as anything other than a predetermined political exercise becomes increasingly difficult.