Friday, March 14, 2008


Netherlands Wants No Explicit Statement on Freedom of Speech

The Netherlands will not ask for an EU statement that explicitly defends freedom of expression. This freedom in fact has limitations, suggested Premier Jan Peter Balkenende in the Lower House.

The Netherlands is seeking support from the EU in relation to the possible consequences of the Koran film that MP Geert Wilders wants to show on or around 28 March. The formal Dutch position is that both freedom of expression and freedom of religion must be respected.

The Netherlands hopes that its view can be incorporated in a joint EU statement if the film leads to violence. Balkenende does not want this statement drawn up yet. "A statement beforehand is problematic, as we do not know what the contents of the film is," he told the Lower House in a debate.

The premier plans to say to his EU colleagues at the Spring European Council today that a centuries-long battle was waged for freedom of speech and "that we need to cherish this." At the same time, this freedom is "no absolute right" but a right to which "responsibility" is attached.

The conservatives (VVD) called on the premier to ask the EU to state in the declaration that freedom of speech is only restricted by the ban on discrimination and incitement to violence.
"Insulting or 'decency' do not come under this," said VVD MP Han ten Broeke. But Balkenende disagreed.

Balkenende repeated his already frequently expressed fear that "groups in Islamic countries" may misuse the film for "horrible things." He said however that the cabinet's position on Wilders' film - it cannot be banned although the government totally rejects it - is being well received in Islamic countries.

The secretary-general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has given Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen to understand that Wilders' film "will have serious repercussions that could get out of hand and be difficult to control." This statement appears in a OIC report discussed yesterday at the IOC summit conference in Senegal. Wilders is referred to eleven times, with a whole paragraph on his film - "a highly provocative documentary."

Pertinent Links:

1) Netherlands Wants No Explicit Statement on Freedom of Speech

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