Dutch MP Geert Wilders, the maker of anti-Koran film Fitna, has attempted to defy an order from the Home Office to keep him out of the UK.
Mr Wilders was held at Heathrow airport by immigration officials as he tried to enter the country.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has been accused of undermining free speech and of ‘appeasing’ religious extremists by blocking the parliamentarian’s visit.
Mr Wilders is an elected member of the Dutch Parliament. He had been invited to show Fitna, a 17-minute film which juxtaposes quotations from the Koran with footage of terrorist atrocities and speeches by Muslim preachers, at a private screening in the House of Lords today.
But earlier this week he received a letter from the Home Office telling him “the Secretary of State is of the view that your presence in the UK would pose a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society.
“The Secretary of State is satisfied that your statements about Muslims and their beliefs, as expressed in your film Fitna and elsewhere would threaten community harmony and therefore public security in the UK.”
Responding to the ban, Mr Wilders told a Dutch radio station: “I’ll see what happens at the border. Let them put me in handcuffs. We are talking here about a European Union country, one of the oldest democracies in the Western world.”
“Freedom of speech”
Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who will host the screening of Fitna along with a question and answer session with Mr Wilders, released a statement.
He said: “Parliament has ordered extra security for a House of Lords event with the controversial Dutch MP Geert Wilders.”
He said the screening was originally scheduled for January, but was postponed “to allow time for clarification on issues concerning freedom of speech”.
The statement clarifies that although there had been threats from Lord Ahmed and Muslim groups of demonstrations at Westminster, the postponement of the showing was not in response to these threats.
Lord Ahmed called the original postponement a “victory for the Muslim community”. He has welcomed the Home Secretary’s decision to ban Mr Wilders from entering the country.
“It would be unwise to have him in the UK because this man’s presence would cause hatred,” Lord Ahmed said.
But Lord Pearson said the decision to ban him from the country was “weak and unacceptable in the extreme”.
“The Home Office is guilty of appeasement on this, clearly,” he added.
Lord Pearson said he took exception to some of Wilders’ statements but wanted to show his film “precisely to uphold his right to freedom of speech, even if we disagree with what he’s saying”.
According to press reports the Dutch foreign minister, known to be a political opponent of Mr Wilders, exchanged curt words with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband over the matter.
“It is disgraceful that a Dutch parliamentarian should be refused entrance to an EU country,” said the Dutch minister, Maxime Verhagen.
Mr Wilders is currently the subject of a controversial prosecution in the Netherlands over allegations that his comments about Islam could incite hatred.
He has been criticised for writing anti-Islamic articles and letters which were published in a mainstream Dutch newspaper, De Volkskrant.
In August 2007 Mr Wilders called for the Koran to be banned. He also favours immigration restrictions to stop more Muslims entering the Netherlands.
Mr Wilders has had police protection since 2004 when Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh was murdered by a radical Muslim who left Koranic quotes stabbed into his chest.
His co-producer on the project, Somali-born former Dutch lawmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali, lived under government protection for several years after van Gogh’s killing. She now lives in the United States.
According to a spokesman the Government says it “opposes extremism in all its forms. It will stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country.
“We endorse the original condemnation of the film ‘Fitna’ by the Dutch Government, and feel that it serves no constructive purpose.
“The British Government has absolutely no connection with any screening of this film that may take place in the House of Lords or anywhere else in the UK. It is a matter for the House of Lords or any other venue as to whether they choose to show it.
“Freedom of speech is a fundamental right, but one that must be used responsibly and not as a cover for causing offence and division. We fully appreciate the sensitivities around the portrayal of any religious figure or text.”
But Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan said: “It’s true that Geert Wilders is a controversialist, who takes pleasure in causing offence. I wouldn’t vote for him if I were Dutch.
“But what I think of him is neither here nor there. Freedom means the freedom to express any opinion, however eccentric, however offensive. The Dutch foreign minister, a political opponent of Mr Wilders, has complained to David Miliband. Good for him.
“Whether our government is actuated by cowardice or authoritarianism, it’s equally ugly. We are a meaner country than we were this morning.”