Anti-Islam lawmaker Wilders asks for dismissal of hate speech case

September 23, 2016 5:58 AM EDT

Dutch far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders answers questions during a Reuters interview in Budapest, Hungary, June 24, 2016, after Britain voted to leave the European Union in the EU BREXIT referendum. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A lawyer for Dutch politician Geert Wilders on Friday argued for dismissal of hate speech charges brought against the far right lawmaker for calling for a reduction in the number of Moroccans in the Netherlands.

Wilders, who currently leads in polls ahead of national elections scheduled for March 15, faces a fine of up to 7,400 euros and a year in jail for discrimination and inciting racism for televised 2014 remarks which also included calling Moroccans "scum."

In a pretrial hearing, lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops called for early dismissal of the suit, saying Wilders' remarks were protected by freedom of speech laws, which he said should be interpreted liberally when they are part of political discourse.

Judges said they did not expect to decide on whether the case may proceed until November at the earliest.

Wilders, who campaigns on an anti-Islam, anti-immigrant platform, was acquitted of hate speech charges in 2011 for various remarks including calling for a ban on the Koran, which he equated with Hitler's' "Mein Kampf" and for saying that "Muslim criminals" should be stripped of their Dutch nationality and deported.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling)

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