Czech appeals court exceptionally reduces sentence for social media user who approved of Christchurch massacre, notes current law is imbalanced
Last month the High Court in Olomouc, Czech Republic reduced the sentence of 22-year-old Benedikt Čermák from six years in prison to three years in prison, suspended for four years, after he was convicted of promoting and supporting terrorism. According to the appeals verdict, during a discussion online, Čermák expressed approval for the terrorism that had been committed in March 2019 in New Zealand.
Čermák posted his commentary beneath video footage of the terrorist shooting up two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and murdering 51 people. Both Čermák and prosecutor Petr Šereda had appealed the first-instance verdict.
The prosecutor's appeal was also filed in favor of the defendant and also sought a reduction of the prison sentence to the shorter end of the possible prison time, which in such a case ranges from five to 15 years, but did object to the idea of an exceptional reduction, as the prosecution believes the conditions of the case do not allow it - Čermák already has a criminal record, has never admitted that what he did was wrong, and has never expressed any sincere regret for his actions. The appeals court, however, ruled the first-instance sentence had been disproportionately harsh.
"The defendant was at risk of being sentenced to between five and 15 years for posting two sentences online. However a perpetrator who actually achieves the commission of a terrorist attack here is just at risk of being sentenced to between three and 12 years - there is an imbalance between the behavior criminalized and the sanctions against it," said presiding Judge Milan Kaderka.
"It seems appropriate to us to take those circumstances into account, and we see an imbalance in the legislation here," the judge said. The case involved Čermák approving of the March 2019 terrorist event during which a right-wing extremist from Australia shot dead 51 adults and children in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The perpetrator broadcast his crime live online. That video was then published online by a server that publicly posts drastic footage of this kind to social media, and those using that platform then expressed agreement with the crime.
A man from the Czech Republic using the nickname "Ssman" was one of those expressing praise for the terrorism in the video, and the Czech Police identified him as Benedikt Čermák of Znojmo. "How they like the taste of their own medicine! Good job! ????" he posted to the online discussion beneath the video.
After he was indicted, Čermák claimed innocence of the charges, and his defense attorney said the comments could not be interpreted as an approval of terrorism. "This comment, however stupid it is, is written in one declaratory sentence and one interrogatory sentence, and from neither is it possible to infer any kind of positivity toward approving of a crime," his defense attorney argued.
"I regret what happened and what I wrote. What I wrote was stupid, I'd be glad if this could come to a reasonable conclusion," the defendant told the court.
The defense arguments before the High Court also disputed the meaning of the communication and of the punctuation used. The judges said the posted remark did not take issue with the content of the video footage and noted that the defendant had admitted to having watched the video and to having read the other posts in the discussion thread.
"We refuse to discuss whether the sentences used are declaratory, exclamatory or interrogatory, what is crucial is the context of the situation as a whole in which the remarks were made. This court is not convinced that, by posting this message, the defendant wanted to take issue with what he saw, he unequivocally expressed his sympathy for what he saw, of that this panel is adamantly convinced," Judge Kaderka said.
The Czech courts have dealt with other such cases of social media users approving of the attack on the two mosques in Christchurch, and in those cases suspended sentences were also handed down. Ondřej Pudil of Žďár nad Sázavou received a similar three-year prison sentence, also suspended, for making posts online in which he praised the calibre of weapon used by the shoorter and expressed regret that the terrorist hadn't bought more ammunition.
In New Zealand, the terrorist assassin who perpetrated the massacre has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is the first person ever given such a sentence there.
Brenton Tarrant, a right-wing extremist from Australia, shot dead 51 people during his attacks on the two mosques and injured 50 other people. The attack was the deadliest in modern New Zealand history.
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