Dutch court sentences ex-Pakistani cricketer to 12 years over reward for death of far-right lawmaker

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch court on Monday sentenced a former Pakistani cricketer to 12 years in prison over allegations that he had offered a reward for the death of firebrand anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders.

The suspect, identified by Wilders as Khalid Latif, is accused of offering a bounty of about 21,000 euros ($23,000) to anybody who killed Wilders.

Latif did not appear in the high-security courtroom near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport for the trial and he was not represented by a lawyer. He is believed to be in Pakistan, which has no extradition agreement with the Netherlands.

Prosecutors did not name Latif, but said in a statement that a video posted online in 2018 showed a famous Pakistan cricketer offering the money for killing Wilders. The lawmaker, who was present for the verdict, has lived under around-the-clock protection for years because of repeated threats to his life sparked by his fierce criticism of Islam.

“The court has now ruled that a long-term unconditional term of imprisonment is the only suitable punishment for these types of offenses,” a statement said.

The alleged bounty offer came after Wilders said he would organize a competition of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims consider any depictions of Muhammad to be blasphemous. Ultimately, the contest was not held, but the plan sparked outrage in the Muslim world.

Wilders said he was “very happy” with the verdict. “But of course, he is not here and it’s only real justice when he will be arrested, apprehended and extradited to the Netherlands,” he said of Latif.

“I lost my whole personal freedom for almost 19 years now,” Wilders said, adding that he and his wife have had to live in safe houses and military barracks. “The only freedom I have is my freedom of speech and my freedom of thought.”

An international warrant has been issued for Latif’s arrest. Dutch prosecutors have said they have been trying to contact him since 2018, first as a witness and then to answer the charges. However, they said they hadn’t received any reply from the Pakistani authorities.

In 2017, Latif was banned for five years from all forms of cricket for his role in a match-fixing scandal in the Pakistan Super League.