Wilders posted a fake picture of D66 leader Alexander Pechthold supposedly rallying with Muslims holding up signs reading: "Islam will conquer Europe". (Representative image) Photograph:( AFP )
Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders triggered a row over fake news Monday with a biting Twitter message showing a Photoshopped picture of another party leader surrounded by radical Islamists.
Some five weeks ahead of key elections in The Netherlands, Wilders posted the fake picture of D66 leader Alexander Pechthold supposedly rallying with Muslims holding up signs reading: "Islam will conquer Europe" and "Shariah for The Netherlands".
Wilders's radical anti-Islam and anti-immigrant platform has helped propel his Freedom Party (PVV) to the top of the opinion polls in recent months ahead of the March 15 vote.
In his tweet he accused Pechthold, who heads the pro-European, pro-democracy, social-liberal D66 party of "demonstrating with Hamas terrorists."
D66 is one of 28 parties contesting the election and is currently trailing fifth in the polls, and Wilders' taunt prompted an angry reaction from Pechthold.
"Usually I laugh at Photoshopped pictures on the internet. But not this time," he wrote on his Facebook page.
"Not because I can't stand up for myself... but because it gives people false impressions."
Last year, Pechthold sued a PVV supporter over photos which sparked death threats against him.
"In these times of fake news and alternative facts, we can't just ignore the consequences that such a fake image can have," he said.
"I draw the line today."
Other politicians also sided with Pechthold. Jesse Klaver, leader of GroenLinks (Green Left), called Wilders' Tweet "low and irresponsible."
"Those who tweet fake news about others, tarnish their own credibility."
And Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher, leader of the Labour party, simply retweeted Wilders tweet with the message "delete your account."
But Wilders hit back against Pechthold on Twitter, saying: "Stop complaining, drama queen. You have demonstrated standing among Palestinian flags, with friends of Hamas. #hypocrite"
The vote in the Netherlands will kick off a year of elections in Europe with ballots also due in both France and Germany. They will be closely watched amid the rise of populist and far-right parties on the continent.