The hate-speech trial of far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders opened Monday, with Wilders notably absent from the proceedings.
The Freedom Party leader known for his remarks against Islam said he's boycotting the trial for alleged racial discrimination and inciting hatred — accusations tied to comments he made about Moroccans at a 2014 rally.
"Prosecutors argued that Geert Wilders crossed a line when he asked supporters if they wanted 'fewer or more Moroccans' in the Netherlands," the BBC reports. "After supporters chanted back 'fewer,' he replied: 'We'll organise that."
Wilders maintains he has done nothing wrong and that the trial is political. He announced that he would not be attending the proceedings in a video statement Thursday, saying he would be represented by his lawyer.
"I refuse to cooperate. Political statements should be discussed in Parliament, not in court," Wilders said, referring to himself as a "politician who says what the politically correct elite does not want to hear."
He repeated his earlier inflammatory remarks: "It's a travesty that I have to stand trial because I spoke about fewer Moroccans. It is my right and my duty as a politician to speak about the problems in our country — because the Netherlands have a huge problem with Moroccans."
In response, a spokesman for the public prosecutor, Frans Zonneveld, said, "The fact that the politician has to appear before a court doesn't make it a political trial." He told The New York Times that "the whole of Dutch society and the people who have made complaints on this issue, as well as Mr. Wilders, have a right to have a court verdict on this matter."
As NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson tells our Newscast unit, "some 6,500 complaints were filed in connection with his remarks and several dozen were read aloud in the Dutch courtroom today."
Soraya explains that Wilders could face up to two years in prison if he's found guilty — but "Dutch prosecutors say most people convicted of such crimes are fined or ordered to do community service."
She adds that Wilders was "acquitted at a similar trial in the Netherlands five years ago." However, legal experts say this trial differs from the previous one in a significant way. In the last trial, he was accused of "discriminating against, and inciting hatred towards, Muslims in interviews in which he denounced Islam as a 'fascist' religion," The Guardian reports.
This time, he's accused of comments inciting hatred against Moroccans, rather than Islam. Henny Sackers, a professor of criminal law at Radoud University, tells the newspaper that this means the prosecutor might have a stronger case:
"The European court says you can criticise religion in public even if it shocks, hurts or disturbs. ... In the case of discrimination on grounds of nationality, you can be guilty of an offence in Dutch law if you provoke social unrest. So I see the chances of a conviction for Wilders as being considerably higher than three years ago."
Some 400,000 Moroccans live in the Netherlands, where they "make up 2 percent of the population," according to The Associated Press.