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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 01:47 GMT 02:47 UK
Dutch court clears anti-gay imam
A Muslim man prays
The cleric was allowed to preach the word of the Koran
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By Geraldine Coughlan
BBC correspondent in The Hague

A Dutch court has cleared a Muslim cleric of charges of discrimination after he denounced homosexuality as a contagious disease.

The court ruled that the imam could not be convicted because of his constitutional right to religious freedom.

Gay rights campaigners who have had success in the Netherlands - which became the first country in the world to legalise gay marriage last year - were disappointed by the ruling.

'Threat to society'

Khalil el-Moumni, a Moroccan immigrant, caused a furore when he made his remarks on national television last May.

Even though he later apologised for saying that homosexuality was a threat to society, 50 organisations and gay rights groups complained about his comments.

That prompted prosecutors to file charges against him demanding a fine of the equivalent of $1,000.

But a Rotterdam court decided he should not be convicted of discrimination and inciting hatred because he was speaking as a cleric.

Appeal planned

The judge said that while he did consider the imam's comments discriminatory, he was free to base his remarks on the text of the Koran.

Prosecutors intend to appeal against the ruling.

The el-Moumni affair sparked widespread debate in the Netherlands, placing the government's integration policy under scrutiny.

The parliament is reviewing legislation to double prison sentences, and increase fines for hate crime offenders, and those convicted of racism.

See also:

19 Dec 00 | Europe
Gay weddings now in Netherlands
14 Jan 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Netherlands
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