The politically charged hate-speech trial of Geert Wilders got underway Monday without the Dutch anti-Islamization lawmaker.
His lawyer, Geert-Jan Knoops, instead read a statement from Wilders calling his case a "political trial" targeting freedom of speech.
In my 2014 interview with Wilders, he explained his opposition to Islam and how he expects to be murdered by Islamists. The current trial centers on comments Wilders made before and after 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, sparking a chant of "Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!"
"We'll take care of it," Wilders answered, in a video recording played in court.
Wilders has refused to back away from the comments.
Wilders said Monday through his lawyer, "It is my right and my duty as a politician to speak about the problems in our country."
It's not the first time Wilders has been prosecuted. He was acquitted on hate-speech charges in 2011 after complaints about his criticism of Islam.
Wilders' anti-immigration party, the Party For Freedom (PVV), is riding high in opinion polls ahead of parliamentary elections next March.
As the trial began, Wilders tweeted: "NL has huge problem with Moroccans. To be silent about it is cowardly. Forty-three percent of Dutch want fewer Moroccans. No verdict will change that."
A 2011 report commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Interior found that 40 percent of Moroccan immigrants in the Netherlands between the ages of 12 and 24 had been arrested, fined, charged or otherwise accused of committing a crime during the past five years.
Wilders faces a maximum sentence of two years' imprisonment if convicted of insulting a group based on race and inciting hatred and discrimination.
However, prosecutors say courts mostly sentence people convicted of such offenses to a fine or community service.