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Dutch politician convicted of 'inciting discrimination' for criticizing Muslim immigration

Geert Wilders (Remko de Waal/AFP/Getty Images)

He advocated for a more hard-line stance on Muslim immigration, and now he's been convicted for it.

Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party, the PVV, in the Dutch House of Representatives and a likely contender to become the next prime minister when voters go to the polls in 2017, has been found guilty of "inciting discrimination" and "insulting a group" for saying the Netherlands would be safer with fewer Moroccans.

On Friday, a panel of three judges deemed Wilders' remarks, which he delivered during a 2014 post-election speech, to be "demeaning and thereby insulting towards the Moroccan population," according to the Guardian.

Hendrik Steenhuis, chairman of the judges, said Wilders' comments were delivered on national television for maximum impact and were clearly aimed at a specific ethnic group.

Neither Wilders nor his lawyer, Geert-Jan Knoops, were present in the court when the verdict was read. Nevertheless, the Dutch politician quickly announced that he plans to challenge the ruling, which he described as "a great loss for democracy and freedom of expression."

The public prosecution service decided to move forward with charges against Wilders after receiving almost 6,000 complaints about a speech he gave following local elections in March 2014.

During the address, Wilders, who took a page from President-elect Donald Trump's playbook with the slogan "Make the Netherlands Great Again," asked a gathering of his supporters if they wanted "more or fewer Moroccans" in their country. When the crowd shouted, Fewer!" back enthusiastically, the right-wing leader said, "Well, we’ll take care of that."

While the court said those words "singled out an entire group of citizens" with a message that "came through loud and clear," Wilders has argued from the beginning that the move was nothing more than a political calculation.

"While the day before yesterday, scores of Moroccan asylum seekers terrorized buses in Emmen and did not even have to pay a fine," Wilders explained in a video posted to his Twitter account Friday, "a politician who asks a question about fewer Moroccans is sentenced."

"The Netherlands have become a sick country," he continued. "I have a message for the judges who convicted me: You have restricted the freedom of speech of millions of Dutch and hence convicted everyone. No one trusts you anymore."

Wilders also blasted the court for not only convicting him but for also waging a political war with "half of the Netherlands," who he says agree with him.

This is not Wilders' first foray into politically controversial commentary. In 2011, he was acquitted of discriminating against Muslims when in various interviews he called Islam a "fascist" religion.

The court cleared Wilders of the charge of hate speech on this latest issue and ordered no fine or jail sentence because they believed the conviction to be punishment enough for a politician of Wilders' standing.

Currently, opinion polls show the PVV in the lead in the coming election with 24 percent of the vote. Wilders has enjoyed a bump that pulled him ahead of the Liberals, which is led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, since Trump won the U.S. presidency.

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