A far-right Dutch MP whose film linking Islamic texts with the terror attacks on New York sparked protests around the Muslim world was last night banned from entering Britain.
Geert Wilders, who leads the small Dutch Freedom Party, was due to show his controversial 17-minute film at an event in the House of Lords tomorrow, but was informed yesterday by British officials that he would not be allowed to enter the country. The decision sparked an immediate diplomatic row after the Dutch Government pressed Britain to reverse the ban.
The film Fitna, which criticises the Koran as a "fascist book", sparked violent protests around the Muslim world last year. The film, which has been posted on the internet, juxtaposes images of the Koran with footage of the 9/11 twin tower attacks and other terrorist atrocities. Mr Wilders had been invited to show the film at an event in Westminster hosted by Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the former Conservative, who is now a UK Independence Party member of the House of Lords.
The film starts with an image of the hugely controversial cartoon of the Prophet Mohamed with a bomb as a turban that sparked global protests after it was printed in a Danish newspaper. The film then shows images of the 9/11 aircraft flying into the World Trade Centre, with quotes from calls to the emergency services from people inside the buildings.
It also contains images of bloodstained corpses following the 2004 Madrid rail bombings before showing gruesome images of beheadings and attacks. The film then shows statistics indicating a growing Muslim population in the Netherlands .
Last night, the Home Office refused to comment on Mr Wilders' case. But a spokesman said: "The Government opposes extremism in all forms. It will stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country. That was the driving force behind tighter rules on exclusions for unacceptable behaviour that the Home Secretary announced in October last year."
Mr Wilders, who lives with round-the-clock security after receiving death threats, said a letter from the British embassy informed him he was being refused entry because his views "threaten community harmony and therefore public security" in the UK. He condemned the British Government's decision as "cowardly".
"This is something you'd expect from Saudia Arabia, not Great Britain," Mr Wilders told a parliamentary session. But he signalled that he might make the journey to London on Thursday despite the ban.
"I am seriously considering just trying it out and just getting on the plane," he said. "Then I'll see what happens. Let them handcuff me," he was quoted as telling Dutch newspaper NRC.
The Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said his government would continue to press Britain to reverse the ban. He said he "deeply regretted" that a Dutch lawmaker had been barred entry to the UK. Mr Verhagen said he had first contacted the British ambassador in The Hague. Having failed, Mr Verhagen then telephoned his British counterpart David Miliband. "It is highly regrettable that a Dutch parliamentarian is refused entry to another EU country," he said in a statement.
Mr Wilders, whose Freedom Party holds nine of the 120 seats in the Dutch Parliament, said he was shocked by the travel ban. He said: "We are talking here about a European Union country, one of the oldest democracies in the Western world."
Lord Pearson, who invited Wilders to show Fitna at the House of Lords, said he was "very surprised" at the news and was looking into what had happened to the Dutch MP.