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Dutch MP Wilders enters Britain on free-speech ruling

Dutch MP Geert Wilders, who made a controversial film about Islam, won his appeal against a British ban imposed to stop him from spreading hatred and violent messages.

By Correspondent / October 16, 2009



London

An outspoken Dutch member of parliament on a "least wanted" British list of figures made a triumphant visit today after a British tribunal overturned a government decision to ban him from the country.

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Geert Wilders, noted for anti-islamic rhetoric – comparing the Koran to Mein Kampf, for example – milked his propaganda coup today during appearances at Parliament, where he was a guest of the Euroskeptic United Kingdom Independence Party.

But legal experts widely regard the independent tribunal's ruling earlier in the week as a "slap on the wrist" for a clumsy attempt by the British government to gain populist points by barring figures such as Mr. Wilders, American talk-show host Michael Savage, and a hodge-podge of world extremists, including Muslim preachers, Russian neo-Nazis, and Fred Waldron Phelps, a homophobic American preacher. 

The move was met largely with indifference by the British public.

Wilders, who has cut a distinctive public figure at home as his Far Right party has made steady political gains, was turned back from the UK in February when he attempted to attend a screening in the House of Lords of his documentary, Fitna, which links atrocities such as 9/11 to Koranic instruction.

Britain's Home Office said he had been barred to stop him spreading "hatred and violent messages."

Fear of trouble not sufficient for ban

Wilders, appealed to the UK's Asylum and Immigration Tribunal which ruled Tuesday that the politician's opinions were expressed "in a way that was bound to cause offense, but that the right of freedom of expression was important in a democratic society."

On the basis of the evidence, it said there had been no public-order problems or damage to community relations as a result of a previous visit by Wilders, discussion of his views or film, or during his travels elsewhere in Europe.

Even if there had been evidence, the judges ruled that it would still have been wrong to turn him away because the police would have been able to deal with any trouble.

Joseph Middleton, a lawyer specializing in immigration and human rights law, says there was little surprise in the British legal community at the tribunal's ruling. 

"In reality, it's a very strong slap on the wrists to the secretary of State to say 'don't seek to infringe freedom of expression in this way,' " he says.

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