A Dutch court sentenced former Pakistan international cricketer Khalid Latif to 12 years in prison for inciting the murder of prominent anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders.
The case revolves around Latif's online video where he offered a substantial sum of 21,000 euros ($22,500) for the assassination of Wilders, who had organized a controversial competition featuring cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
Latif, 37, was convicted in absentia as Dutch authorities had been unsuccessful in their attempts to question him about the case and secure legal assistance from Pakistan. Despite the significant sentence, it remains doubtful whether Latif will ever serve his time.
Presiding judge G. Verbeek delivered a stern message during the sentencing, stating, "It was not a stretch to think that somebody around the world would have taken heed of the call to kill Mr. Wilders. The accused knew this and his call fueled the fire to have Wilders killed."
Geert Wilders, who has been under 24-hour state protection since 2004 due to a plethora of death threats, expressed his satisfaction with the verdict but expressed concern over Pakistan's lack of cooperation in the matter.
"It is no longer acceptable that the Pakistani authorities refuse to cooperate. I am going to ask the prime minister to ensure that Khalid Latif is arrested in Pakistan and extradited to the Netherlands," Wilders stated outside the courtroom.
Wilders had initially planned to hold the cartoon contest, which drew widespread criticism in the Netherlands, with politicians, local media, and citizens condemning it as needlessly provocative to the Muslim community.
The cancellation of the contest was prompted by protests in Pakistan and a surge in death threats against Wilders.
Judge Verbeek emphasized that Latif's video not only targeted Wilders personally but also struck at the heart of free speech in the Netherlands. The case underscores the challenges posed by the intersection of free speech and religious sensitivities in a diverse society.
Khalid Latif, known for his cricket career, played five one-day internationals and 13 T20 internationals for Pakistan before being banned from the sport for five years in 2017 due to spot-fixing in a Pakistan Super League match in Dubai. His last appearance for Pakistan was in September 2016.
Despite his sporting prowess, Verbeek noted that Latif had misused his fame as an international cricketer to further incite tensions in the Netherlands, a nation already facing multiple threats.
The verdict has ignited a fresh debate on the balance between freedom of speech and the potential consequences of inflammatory rhetoric in a multicultural society, with observers worldwide closely monitoring the case's implications for future discussions on the matter.