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Commentary by Petr Uhl: It is a felony to disseminate hatred in the Czech Republic

Prague, 2.5.2012 17:48, (ROMEA)
Petr Uhl, member of the Czech Helsinki Committee, who was the first-ever Human Rights Commissioner in the Czech Republic.

When a physical or verbal assault is committed against people who are homeless, homosexual, Jews, Muslims, Roma, or from any other group, those who evaluate the follow-up actions of the police and courts tend to differ in their opinions as to what should be prosecuted as a felony, what should be prosecuted as a misdemeanor, and what should be tolerated. Recently there has been a debate over the verdict of a court in Most acquitting three right-wing radicals for displaying the flag of the court-dissolved Workers' Party (Dělnická strana - DS). The state prosecutor considers that to be a movement aimed at suppressing human rights.

On the other hand, a court in Kroměříž sentenced five youths to three years on parole for that same crime, which the prosecution charges they committed by disseminating neo-Nazi musical recordings and videos inciting hatred against various groups. The presiding judge said the lyrics of the music threatened Arabs with violence unless they leave the country and called for the use of Zyklon B gas against Romani people.

A third case: On a square in the town of Břeclav, about 2 000 people protested on a Sunday against Romani people and the insufficient provision of public security. As many as 200 right-wing radicals led by DSSS chair Tomáš Vandas incited the crowd with slogans such as "While the town hall sleeps, the Gypsy murders" or "Let's stop Gypsy terror".

The good news is that, of the locals participating in the protest, almost no one joined the attempted pogrom against Romani residents, which was only prevented from happening by the presence of riot police. The mother of the boy who was beaten almost to death, reportedly by unidentified Romani men, also chose not to join that attempted pogrom. Local residents instead attached themselves to the mayor, who dissuaded them from participating in the neo-Nazi action.

The bad news is that the police were pleased to announce that "the action took place without significant disorder". It did not even occur to the police to arrest anyone for inciting hatred.

The cases in Kroměříž and Most will both be appealed at the very least. Various experts have expressed their opinions on the question of whether they should have been prosecuted. Amazingly enough, these experts have tended to advise against prosecution unless the case involves a direct call for the immediate commission of violence.

For example, one expert on extremism rather artlessly made the following comment about the Kroměříž case on the radio: "In my opinion, the publishing of such videos is not the kind of thing that should be criminal, but the penal code does actually make such prosecution possible." The onus here rests on the court's appraisal of the evidence. However, Mr Charvát's advice that something should not be prosecuted even when it is defined by the law as criminal leads to legal uncertainty and violates a legal principle that has applied in this country (unlike, for example, in the USA) for seven centuries: The state is obliged to prosecute all of the crimes it learns of.

The Czech Republic has obliged itself, through its membership in the Council of Europe (and indirectly through its EU membership) to prosecute the dissemination of hatred and should be glad to take in experiences from other countries on how this is done. That is why a seminar on Romani people in Europe is taking place in Brno, organized by the European Association for the Defense of Human Rights (AEDH) and its Czech member organization, the Czech Helsinki Committee (Český helsinský výbor) in collaboration with the Museum of Roma Culture.

Those attending the seminar come from 20 EU countries and will discuss not only discrimination and violence against Romani people, but some of the most difficult issues, such as Romani people's access to justice and the upholding of their dignity, as one of the discussion panels is called. That is a good thing.

Gwendolyn Albert, Petr Uhl, Petr Uhl, first published in the daily Právo, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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