Geert Wilders acquitted of inciting hatred against Muslims

Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders

An Amsterdam court has acquitted Dutch politician Geert Wilders of inciting hatred against Muslims.

The 47-year old populist, who leads the right-wing Party for Freedom, was cleared and told his comments were "acceptable within the context of the public debate".

The ruling puts to an end an eight-month-long trial over remarks made by Mr Wilders between 2006 and 2008. He had been charged with five counts of hate speech.

Judge Marcel van Oosten said: "Although gross and degenerating, [his comments] did not give rise to hatred."

Mr Wilders said his comments about Islam were in defence of "the character, the identity, the culture and the freedom of The Netherlands."

He said he was extremely pleased with the ruling. "This is not so much a win for myself, but a victory for freedom of speech," he said. "You can criticise Islam and not be gagged in public debate."

Mr Wilders is a divisive figure in The Netherlands, which ahs a long tradition of tolerance but in recent years has seen opposition to immigration rise.

Last updated: 1:24pm, June 23 2011