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September 21, 2019
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Czech civil society urges MPs not to elect President's nominee for Deputy Public Defender of Rights

12.3.2019 8:57
Zdeněk Koudelka (PHOTO: Czech Television)
Zdeněk Koudelka (PHOTO: Czech Television)

Yesterday a happening called "One Minute to Midnight", organized by the "Ombudsman in Danger" initiative, warned against electing the President's candidate, Zdeněk Koudelka, to the position of Deputy Public Defender of Rights. Voting on this post is scheduled to take place in the Chamber of Deputies tomorrow, 13 March.

Initiators of the happening expressed their support for the candidacy of Jan Povýšil, a Paralympion. A petition against the election of Koudelka has already been signed by hundreds of citizens, including figures from political and social life.

The election of Koudelka, according to the initiators of the happening, would absolutely contravene the purpose of the Office of the Public Defender of Rights, which is to protect people in the Czech Republic against arbitrary treatment and misconduct by officials. The initiators believe the appointment of Koudelka to the position of Deputy Public Defender of Rights would mean the destruction of this institution.

The call not to elect Koudelka to this position has been signed by a former speaker of both the upper and lower chambers of Parliament, Petr Pithart; by the director of the People in Need organization, Šimon Pánek; by the former Charter 77 spokespersons Dana Němcová and Věra Roubalová; by the screenwriter David Smoljak; by Czech MEP Jaromir Štětina; by the former director of Czech Radio's Vltava station, Petr Fišer; by the director of the ROMEA organization, Zdeněk Ryšavý; and by the former MP and current fundraiser for ROMEA, Monika Mihaličková. Two days after its launch the call has been joined by more than 300 individuals and organizations and more keep adding their support, while a petition launched by the "Million Moments for Democracy" initiative against the election of Koudelka has more than 5 000 signatures as of the time this article is being posted in translation.

Joint Declaration on the Election of the Deputy Public Defender of Rights

We, the signatories of this declaration on the election of the Deputy Public Defender of Rights, call on members of the Parliament of the Czech Republic not to support Zdeněk Koudelka's candidacy. We are convinced that under no circumstances does he fulfill the characteristics necessary to performing this function and that his previous actions, activities and statements demonstrate that he is not eligible to represent the Office of the Public Defender of Rights.

If Koudelka is elected Deputy Public Defender of Rights, this would discredit and paralyze the Office of the Public Defender of Rights in its basic mission - being a check on power and ensuring that civil rights will be protected in Czech democracy. We are also calling on our fellow citizens to support this call by reaching out to their MPs.

Since its inception, the Public Defender of Rights has played a very important role in protecting people in the Czech Republic against abuses of power by local authorities and the state. It is the only relatively independent institution that has both the duty and the right to rectify incorrect, unfair decisions made by the Czech authorities.

The proposed candidate for the post of Deputy Public Defender of Rights, Zdeněk Koudelka, was one of the engineers of the electoral law dating back to the time of the opposition agreement between the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), legislation that aimed to disadvantage smaller parties. The Constitutional Court abolished that legislation as contravening the proportional system of elections, which is anchored in the Constitution.

In February 2006, Koudelka supported then-Czech President Klaus in his dispute with the head of the Supreme Court, Iva Brožová. Koudelka said the President's decision to remove her was in accordance with the Constitution and statutory law.

At the time that case, again, ended up before the Constitutional Court, which decided that the President's approach contravened the Constitution. Brožová then remained in office as the presiding justice of the Supreme Court.

Zdeněk Koudelka is also the co-author of the more than controversial prisoner amnesty announced by Klaus, on the basis of which more than 111 000 convictions were pardoned. The mission of the Office of the Public Defender of Rights is to protect individuals against local authorities and state institutions when such institutions break the law or contravene the principles of democracy and the rule of law.

Through its activities, the Office of the Public Defender of Rights contributes to protecting fundamental rights and freedoms and is anchored on the side of the people during their communications with bodies of the state which, in some situations, have far more power, as opponents, than individuals do. The characteristics of the Public Defender of Rights and his or her Deputy, both of whom lead this office, should be openness and, primarily, a high degree of moral credit and comprehension of civil rights.

Both the post of Public Defender of Rights and Deputy Public Defender of Rights have, until now, been represented in the Czech Republic by internationally recognized authorities and figures who, through their work, have leant these positions gravitas and respect. On the contrary, neither of these posts can be, as a matter of principle, represented by people whose work to date has not demonstrated their interest in protecting civil rights, has not involved their behaving fairly in the interests of persons who are being oppressed, whoever they may be, nor can they be represented by people who have acted to benefit their own utilitarian interests or those of a limited group.

For these reasons, we hereby fundamentally object to the step taken by President Miloš Zeman of proposing the attorney Zdeněk Koudelka for the post of Deputy Public Defender of Rights. We emphatically call on the MPs of the Czech Republic to take these facts into consideration when they vote on a candidate for this post and to choose, of the candidates proposed, eminent figures from public life with high moral credit.

On behalf of the preparation committee

Magda Faltová, Sdružení pro integraci a migrace (Association for Integration and Migration)

Hana Potměšilová, Revenium

Martin Šimáček, Institut pro sociální inkluzi (Institute for Social Inclusion)

Martin Rozumek, Organizace na pomoc uprchlíkům (Organization for Aid to Refugees)

Klára Laurenčíková, Česká odborná společnost pro inkluzivní vzdělávání (Czech Professional Society for Inclusive Education)

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Ombudsman, Poslanecká sněmovna, prezident, protest



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