THE HAGUE 11/03/09
The Supreme Court yesterday produced an important ruling in principle in favour of freedom of speech. The highest court of the Netherlands acquitted a man of insulting Muslims although he dubbed Islam a tumour.
The Supreme Court quashed a ruling by an appeal court in Den Bosch. As had a district court earlier, the appeal court did find the man guilty. Yesterday's acquittal can have consequences for all future court cases on insulting followers of a faith or ideology, including the notorious case against MP Geert Wilders.
According to the country's highest court, people expressing themselves offensively about a religion are not automatically guilty of insulting its followers, even if the followers feel insulted. "The statement must unmistakeably refer to a certain group of people who differentiate themselves from others by their religion," ruled the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court acquitted a man who in November 2004 stuck a poster in his window with the text: 'Stop the tumour that is called Islam'. While people may not insult believers, they can insult their religion, according to the Supreme Court. "The sole circumstance of offensive statements about a religion also insulting its followers is not sufficient to speak of insulting a group of people due to their religion."
The appeal court in Den Bosch had ruled that "in view of the bonds between Islam and its believers," as well as being unnecessarily offensive to Islam the poster was also offensive for those who practise Islam. But "the appeal court thereby gave too wide an interpretation of the expression 'a group of people according to their religion', as it occurs in Article 137c."
The case was about Article 137c of the Criminal Code, which makes offensive statements about a group of people an offence. It was not about incitement to hatred or discrimination, the Supreme Court stressed.
Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Wilders, meanwhile internationally known for his struggle against Islam, will be tried for insulting Muslims as a group. The court that will handle his case will have to take yesterday's Supreme Court ruling into account.
Originally, the Public Prosecutor's Office (OM) did not want to prosecute the MP, because it did not consider any of his statements a punishable offence. But in January, an appeal court in Amsterdam ordered the OM to change its mind.
As well as for insulting Muslims, Wilders will also be on trial for incitement to hatred and discrimination against Muslims. When the Wilders case will come to court is not yet known.