THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The British government has banned Dutch right-wing lawmaker Geert Wilders from visiting the country to show his anti-Islam film "Fitna" at the Houses of Parliament.
Wilders was invited by a member of British Parliament's upper house, the House of Lords, to show his 15-minute film, which criticizes the Quran as a "fascist book." But he was informed Tuesday in a letter from the British Embassy he would not be allowed into Britain.
The film sparked violent protests around the Muslim world last year for linking Quranic verses with footage of terrorist attacks.
Wilders has lived for years with round-the-clock security because of his fierce criticism of Islam. He has urged his government to ban the Quran in the same way it did Adolf Hitler's book "Mein Kampf" and warned of a "tsunami" of Islam swamping the Netherlands.
Last month, a court in Amsterdam ordered him prosecuted for hate speech, a rarely punished crime in the liberal Netherlands that carries a maximum one-year sentence. Wilders has appealed the order to the Supreme Court.
In a telephone interview Wilders called the British government's decision "cowardly" and vowed to defy it.
"Let them try to detain me," he told The Associated Press, adding that he had lunch in the British House of Lords in December.
Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said the Dutch government would press Britain to reverse the ban and said he "deeply regretted" that a Dutch lawmaker had been barred access.
Britain's Home Office, which is responsible for immigration issues, said it had no specific comment to make about Wilders' case.
But in a statement the Home Office said it "opposes extremism in all its forms" and would work to "stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country."
Lord Pearson, who invited Wilders to show "Fitna" at the House of Lords on Thursday, said he was "very surprised that the British government should ban a European citizen — and an elected Dutch MP at that — from coming to this country."
He called his government's decision "weak and unacceptable in the extreme."
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."
He added that he would do his best to help Wilders to show his film in the U.K., despite the ban.
Wilders said the embassy letter informed him he was being refused entry because his views "threaten community harmony and therefore public security" in Britain.
He said the letter cited article 19 of the 2006 British Immigration Regulations.
According to a copy of the regulations on the Home Office Web site, the article allows a person to be banned from the United Kingdom "if his exclusion is justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health."
Wilders, whose Freedom Party holds nine of Dutch parliament's 120 seats, said he was shocked by the travel ban.
"We are talking here about a European Union country, one of the oldest democracies in the Western world," he said.