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Czech bill to suspend residency of misdemeanor offenders passes first reading

Prague, 29.9.2011 8:28, (ROMEA)

On Tuesday the Czech lower house approved a first reading of a bill which would make it possible for municipalities to ban the residency of people who repeatedly commit misdemeanors. The bill was drafted by a group of coalition MPs led by the former chief magistrate of Chomutov, Ivana Řápková, news server Deníkreferendum.cz reports.

The bill survived a motion to reject it by the opposition Social Democrats and is heading to various committees for review. Local authorities would be able to use the ban to address misdemeanors such as begging, consuming alcohol or prostitution in places where municipal ordinances forbid such activities and would be able to ban those who repeatedly commit misdemeanors from residing on their territories for up to three months.

Řápková says the fines now levied against those who commit misdemeanors are not helping, as they very often cannot be collected. "Insufficient sanctions mechanisms are leading to rising aggression, because as soon as perpetrators determine that committing a misdemeanor has no consequences, they try to get away with even more," Řápková believes.

Even though the MP's bill on banning residency was submitted as a coalition effort, the cabinet of Czech MP Petr Nečas has expressed a negative view of it. "The Government doubts whether this bill conforms to the section of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms concerning freedom of movement and residency. The Charter, however, does offer the option of restricting people's right to movement and residency should property or public order be threatened," Řápková explained, claiming that this is "not an anti-Roma law", but a law against all who disturb public order. Unlike the Government, the Union of Towns and Villages (Svaz měst a obcí) agrees with the bill.

Anna Šabatová, the former deputy ombudsman who is currently the chair of the Czech Helsinki Committee, disagrees with Řápková and tends to agree that the bill is unconstitutional. Moreover, Šabatová believes it will not address the causes of these problems, but will merely intensify the use of repressive measures against the socially deprived.

"The proposed bill, like all the others drafted by Ivana Řápková, does not address the causes of these problems, but intensifies the use of repressive measures against the socially deprived. A segment of people is being pushed more and more to the fringes of society. This bill is dangerous," Šabatová said.

Šabatová believes the bill could result in some people's residency being banned everywhere, which means they would essentially become outcasts. "This doesn't have anything to do with law enforcement - rather, this is harassment," Šabatová told Deník Referendum, adding that she considers it inappropriate for an administrative body to levy sanctions that currently only a court can impose under specific circumstances. "Moreover, I have serious doubts that the proposed measures have passed the test of proportionality," she said.

Stanislav Křeček, press spokesperson for the Czech Social Democrats (ČSSD), warned against adopting laws that apply only to certain people and certain places. "That is the road to hell," he said, adding that he doubted restricting people's residency would make any sense as a sanction.

Czech MP Stanislav Polčák (TOP 09) removed his signature from the bill before it was discussed because he disagreed with several statements Řápková has made about Romani people. However, he defended having discussed with Řápková aspects of the passage of the bill into a second reading, saying the bill could be improved during discussions in various committees.

Czech MP Aleš Rádla (Civic Democrats - ODS) expressed "great embarrassment" over the bill. "This law corresponds to a style of thought that was characteristic of the 19th century and resulted in the creation of ghettos," he said. He believes the bill is unconstitutional and did not vote for it. However, most of the MPs present for the vote approved of sending the bill into the second reading phase.

The bill does not envision that the residency ban might be applied by a district or place where a perpetrator of misdemeanors is a permanent resident. People violating the ban on their residency would be obstructing the performance of an official decision. Local authorities would also be able to forgive perpetrators as much as half of the time of the residency ban. Juveniles would not be subjected to the bill's provisions.

The bill must pass through the second and third reading phases, during which amendments to it will be discussed and its overall wording will be established. It would then have to be discussed by the Czech Senate and signed into law by the President.

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, Deník referendum, fk, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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