The trial of Geert Wilders, one of the Netherlands' most controversial political figures who faces charges of racial discrimination and inciting hatred, began in Amsterdam on Monday with the right-wing populist in absentia.
The charges were filed after Wilders led a chant at a rally in The Hague in March 2014 during which he asked the crowd, "Do you want more or fewer Moroccans?" His supporters shouted "Fewer, fewer" in response, and Wilders then said, "We will take care of that."
The comments were met with public outcry in the Netherlands, with 6,000 complaints made to the police.
State prosecutors said that Wilders' speech had incited hatred towards a specific section of the population and that many Dutch citizens of Moroccan descent felt "deeply hurt, insulted and threatened" by what was said.
Wilders is refusing to attend the trial, which he called a "political trial" against freedom of speech in a statement read by his defence lawyer in the courtroom.
The head of the anti-immigration Party for Freedom claims he was only speaking the truth and that a disproportionately high percentage of Moroccans in the Netherlands are criminals and reliant on state handouts.
In the statement, he said he was within his rights to call out by name what he regards "a massive Moroccan problem."
"I won't be silenced by anyone," he added.
The 53-year-old argues that the case should be debated in parliament rather than brought before a court of law.
The trial is expected to last under two weeks, with a ruling set for December 9. As a politician, Wilders is unlikely to face the up-to-two-year jail term if found guilty of discrimination and incitement to hatred.
He was cleared of similar incitement charges in 2011 after making inflammatory comments about Muslims.
Wilders has spent much of his political career railing against the influence of Islam in Dutch society.
By Annette Birschel
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