Friday, October 22, 2010

Tom Schalken’s Feud

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Here is some lengthier background material on what happened today in the Geert Wilders trial. The day’s momentous event — which led eventually to the removal of the judges in the case — was the revelation of an apparent attempt by the counselor Tom Schalken, the judge who ordered the prosecution of Wilders, to influence the expert witness Hans Jansen.

Our Flemish correspondent VH has translated the following articles about today’s events from Dutch-language sources. First is this account by the expert witness himself, Hans Jansen, from HoeiBoei:

Schalken, Counselor

By Hans Jansen

For Monday evening May 3, 2010, the activist Bertus Hendriks invited me to dinner. Bertus is the soul of the Palestina-comité [Palestine Committee]. I have known him since 1963. Nobody can speak as wonderfully about the suffering of the Palestinians as Bertus does. Over a handful of glasses of beer, Bertus always explained me that he actually does not really care all that much about the Palestinian problem. The point is, he explained to me — because I am a bourgeois element of a past generation — to expose the global structures of exploitation via the fate of the Palestinians. In short, a good friend whose dinner invitation you do not wave away.

There would also be “some friends” of his joining in. With dinner parties in civilized circles, that is not something unusual. It seemed fun to Bertus if we would talk a bit about Islam, and yes, about the Wilders trial. I would be heard in this trial on Thursday, May 6, as an expert witness; if I understood it correctly, about “the contents of the Quran and the Sharia”, to the extent that in this trial this would be of relevance or of importance.

That hearing was necessary, as it turned out, because the court — to my impression — could not imagine that the things that Geert Wilders said were actually in the Quran. It is hard to say “no” to an old friend you know for almost forty years. So I said “yes”. For indoors, there may still be free thinking, and much said.

I’m always a little too early, or exactly on time. That’s somewhat of a peasant habit, born out of insecurity. The second guest who arrived was none other than one Mr. Tom Schalken. He greeted me affably and started a conversation about Islam.

Where did I know the name of that guest from? Suddenly I recalled it. He was one of the members of the Chamber of the Amsterdam Appeals Court which had ordered that Geert Wilders be brought to the court in Amsterdam for hate speech, discrimination, and group-insult.

I asked him whether I in his presence could actually speak freely. He, for that matter, had previously dragged someone into court who had spoken about Islam. This led to outrage with the skilled judiciary. I told my host that I would leave now, because it is pointless to have a conversation when someone is present who has the power to get you locked up if the conversation does not suit him. The atmosphere changed somewhat.

After some urging on my part, Mr. Tom Schalken guaranteed that he would not sue me nor have me arrested, for what I would say that evening. I was happy with that guarantee. The conversation about his commitment took about twenty minutes. Meanwhile, the other guests also arrived.

Mr. Schalken then asked the same guarantee of me. That I did not give him, with the formal argument that I do not have the power to lock someone up. I only hoped that I had hidden my anger well enough. It was a few days before I had to go to court for my testimony. The appetizer was served. This dinner party no longer seemed fun to me.

Mrs. Hendriks had cooked wonderfully, but I did not taste it. Besides myself, the other diners were all notables of the PvdA [Labour Party, Socialists] and GreenLeft. A number of them were also working with the Judiciary. Mr. Schalken therefore was not the only magistrate who dined along.

Still, the evening did have some merry sides. Occasionally Mr. Tom Schalken made an attempt to be friendly to me, and started a jovial and good conversation. Over and over he steered this towards the Wilders trial. An unemployed actor would have played a better role in his attempts at kindness and geniality. He tried to convince me of the correctness of his decision to drag Wilders before the court in Amsterdam. Schalken, who is also professor emeritus at the Vrije Universiteit [Amsterdam] — the University of Balkenende, Rouvoet and Bos [respectively PM, vice PM, and vice PM of the former center-left cabinet] — let me know that, scientifically seen, it was a “mighty interesting case” that should be “damn well” thought through, and offered “all variety of perspectives”.

Aha, I understood it. It is thus not a trial, there at the Parnassusweg [address of the court], but rather an academic working group. More of a student-style plea-exercise than a serious criminal trial for big people. With, as a joke, a heavily-threatened politician as guinea pig. “Exposing Global structures”. Indeed, a nice hobby.

And from De Pers:
Counselor and Witness at a arduous dinner

A judge who ordered the prosecution of Geert Wilders sought to convince a witness in his trial that this was justified.

Tom Schalken, professor and one of the counselors of the Public Prosecutor [OM], who forced the prosecution of PVV leader Geert Wilders, dined last May with Arabist Hans Jansen, an expert witness for Wilders. Jansen was invited to a dinner club where Schalken belonged, for a debate about Wilders trial.

“The dinner I was involved with,” said Schalken, “was a meeting of the Vertigo-society, a club of friends from different disciplines, who have met for some twenty years to discuss social issues. The host sometimes invites ‘mystery guests’. In this case, that appeared to be Hans Jansen.”

According to the host who invited Jansen — the freelance Middle East expert Bertus Hendriks — Schalken however, was aware of Jansen to be there. That Jansen was expert witness in the trial, “appealed to us as something for the dining club,” according to Hendriks.

The dining club of eight to nine men includes a number of judiciaries. Besides Schalken, there are among others Henk Wooldrik, also deputy justice in Amsterdam. Hendriks: “The Wilders case led to much discussion within the club. We previously had invited the commentator Paul Scheffer. Scheffer and Schalken were opposed to each other. That inspired more. Jansen was invited because of his stated position, which provides food for discussion.”

The dinner briefly threatened to be disrupted. Hendriks: “Jansen arrived first. Schalken second. I said about Schalken: this is the man who has co-authored the verdict of the [Amsterdam] court. Jansen was immediately very angry. He said: then I would never have accepted the invitation. He wanted to leave, and said ‘what I say here can be used against me, Schalken can have me picked up. Absurd’.”

“Schalken was dumbfounded. I needed the gift of the gab to persuade Jansen to stay. He demanded immunity. I thought that was pretty paranoid, because the discussions we have remain indoors.”

Hendriks calls the atmosphere “a little weird”, but the discussion “pleasant”. “Schalken co-authored the verdict, we talked about that. Jansen spoke of ‘Soviet practices’, a ‘witch trial’. Usually he has an ironic tone, but I don’t know for sure that was irony.”

This week Jansen wrote an indignant piece on the weblog HoeiBoei [see above]. According to him, Hendriks had only said there would be “some friends”. Jansen points out that the dinner took place three days before he would be heard by the Magistrate. The diners were, according to him, “Labour and GreenLeft-notables” and “Schalken was not the only magistrate who dined along”.

Schalken, according to Jansen, “over and over steered the conversation towards the Wilders trial” and “tried to convince me of the correctness of his decision to drag Wilders to court.” He let me know that it was scientifically a “mighty interesting case”, where should be thought about “damn well”, and that it offered “all kinds of perspectives”.

Hendriks calls this narration “a ridiculous caricature”. “As far as I remember, I had mentioned Schalken when I invited Jansen. Perhaps Jansen did not realize who he was”. Hendriks also says that he did not know at the time that Jansen’s hearing would be only three days later.

Schalken reveals that in hindsight he finds the choice to ask Jansen not so favorable. But: “Nothing happened that was against the rules. What is against the rule is that someone tells tales of such a meeting”. He calls Jansen’s version “a strange story”.

The Council Chamber for the Judiciary says Schalken did nothing wrong, as long as he does not say anything about the discussions with his fellow justices.

Also from De Pers:

Wilders: Mafia practices with the Counselor

PVV leader Geert Wilders accuses Counselor Tom Schalken of the Amsterdam Court of “mafia practices”. Wilders does this following an article in De Pers [see above].

Wilders twitters about this on Friday: “Newspaper De Pers: Judge Schalken of the Court of Amsterdam tries to influence expert witness Hans Jansen during dinner. Mafia practices.’’

Another from De Pers:

Moszkowicz wants to hear Arabist because of Counselor.

Bram Moszkowicz wants to hear Arabist Hans Jansen again as a witness in connection with an article in De Pers [see above] on Friday. This is about a dinner to which a Counselor of the Court, Tom Schalken, attended and in which Schalken said that it was good that Wilders is being prosecuted. Schalken was part of the court that ordered the Public Prosecutor (OM) to prosecute Wilders.

[…] Moszkowicz said that with this he is strengthened in his belief that one of the judges of the court let personal motives play a role in the decision to prosecute Wilders, while the OM did not want to do that. Moszkowicz has said in his plea that he believes the decision of the court already has a character of condemnation, due to which Wilders has not received a fair trial. […] The OM is considering a response to the request by Moszkowicz; after that the court will make a decision on this.

A few notes on Tom Schalken from previous Gates of Vienna posts:

From March 2009:

The judges Tom M. Schalken, J.P. Splint and F.A. Hartsuiker of the Amsterdam Appeal Court ruled earlier this year that Wilders has to be prosecuted because of the incitement to hatred and discrimination. Also, the politician has to go to court for “insulting a group” of Muslim believers because he has described the Koran as an “Islamic Mein Kampf.”

From September 2010:

But how could the court then decide to reach such a different conclusion? De Roos, conspiratorially: “Tom Schalken acted as counselor, also as professor. I have read somewhere that this case is actually the continuation of a feud that we as professors have been having about these kinds of articles of law. And there is something in this.”

From January 2009:

Mr. Schalken appears to be a columnist for NRC Handelsblad, and wrote this column: “The office of public prosecution is a rotting corpse”. This is a judge who, in the Wilders case, outmaneuvered the public prosecutor. This column is nothing but a massive attack on the Public Prosecution Office.

He [columnist Theodoor Holman] ends his column with a call to the minister of Justice to force the Office of the Public Prosecution to consider whether it has any value at all. Mr. Schalken has a distinct motive to humiliate [the] Public Prosecutor.