A populist and anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker was found guilty Friday of insulting and inciting discrimination against Moroccans, a conviction that Geert Wilders slammed as a "shameful" attack on free speech and an attempt to "neutralize" him. Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said the court wouldn't impose a sentence because the conviction was punishment enough for an elected lawmaker, the AP reports. Wilders was not in court for the verdict that came just over three months before national elections; his Party for Freedom is narrowly leading a nationwide poll of polls and has risen in popularity during the trial. Wilders quickly released a video message slamming the judgment and vowing to appeal. "Today I was convicted in a political trial which ... attempts to neutralize the leader of the largest and most popular opposition party," Wilders said. "They will not succeed."
Before the hearing, Wilders had tweeted: "Whatever the verdict, I will continue to speak the truth about the Moroccan problem, and no judge, politician, or terrorist will stop me." The prosecution centered on comments Wilders made before and after the Dutch municipal elections in 2014. At one meeting in a Hague cafe, he asked supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands, which sparked a chant of "Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!"—to which he replied, "We'll take care of it." Wilders was acquitted at another hate speech trial in 2011 for his outspoken criticism of Islam. "This [verdict] gives the Moroccans who felt like victims a renewed belief in a democratic society," says the president of the Euro-Mediterranean Center for Migration and Development. (Read more Netherlands stories.)