THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch prosecutors demanded a 12-year prison sentence Tuesday for a former Pakistani cricketer accused of incitement to murder firebrand anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders.
The suspect, identified by Wilders as Khalid Latif, is accused of offering a bounty of some 21,000 euros ($23,000) to anybody who killed Wilders.
Latif did not appear in the high-security courtroom near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport for the trial. He is believed to be in Pakistan.
Prosecutors did not name Latif, but said in a statement that a video posted online in 2018 showed a famous Pakistan cricketer offering the money for killing Wilders. The lawmaker has lived under round-the-clock protection for years because of repeated threats to his life sparked by his fierce criticism of Islam.
The threat came after Wilders said he would organize a competition of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims consider any depictions of Muhammad to be blasphemous. Ultimately, the contest did not go ahead, but the plan sparked outrage in the Muslim world.
“The video message was extra toxic because it was issued during a period in which there was a lot of hatred and anger towards Geert Wilders,” the Public Prosecution Service in The Hague said in its written statement.
The prosecution office said that killing Wilders would not just have “caused unbearable pain to his loved ones. It would also have been an attack on the rule of law itself.”
Wilders said in court that a conviction would send a “powerful signal to all other others who issue threats: we won't accept it.”
And in comments he addressed directly to Latif, he added: “As long as I'm living and breathing, you won't stop me. Your call to kill me and pay money for it is abject and will not silence me."
An international warrant has been issued for Latif's arrest. Dutch prosecutors said they had been trying to contact him since 2018, first as a witness and then to answer the charges. However, they said they hadn't received any reply from the Pakistani authorities.
In 2017, Latif, 37, was banned for five years from all forms of cricket for his role in a match-fixing scandal in the Pakistan Super League.
Tuesday's case comes at a time when parts of the Muslim world have been angered by a series of Quran burnings in Sweden. Swedish police have allowed the demonstrations, citing freedom of speech, but have filed preliminary hate speech charges against a refugee from Iraq who has carried out a series of such desecrations.