In a case that will test the limits of Dutch freedom of expression, firebrand lawmaker Geert Wilders appeared in court Friday for the first public hearing in a hate speech prosecution.
The pretrial hearing at a tightly guarded courtroom on the edge of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport comes with Wilders’ anti-Islam Freedom Party standing atop opinion polls a year ahead of Dutch parliamentary elections and with anti-immigrant sentiment rising across Europe.
Prosecutor Wouter Bos said the case pits two key pillars of the Dutch constitution against one another: A ban on discrimination and the right to freedom of expression.
“The importance of freedom of speech is great,” he said. “It is one of the essential elements of our democratic society.” But, he added, “freedom of speech is not absolute.”