Czech court acquits defendant of disseminating radical Islamic book
Yesterday a court in the Czech Republic acquitted the former chair of the Prague Muslim Community, Vladimír Sáňka, of disseminating a radical Islamic book. According to the Prague 1 District Court, the book merely promotes an ideology, and it is not possible to criminally prosecute the promotion of an ideology.
The charges were brought after police raided Muslim centers in Prague in 2014. Sáňka faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted and the state prosecutor sought a three-year probation period for him.
The verdict has yet to take effect. The state prosecutor immediately appealed, so Prague's Municipal Court will review the case next.
The book at issue is a Czech translation of a work by Bilal Philips called The Fundamentals of TAWHEED (Islamic Monotheism). Its author is not allowed to travel to some Western countries and the book itself is banned in some states.
According to the Czech Interior Ministry's annual report on extremism, the book promotes the Salafist branch of the religion of Islam, which espouses hatred and intolerance for other religions. According to presiding Judge Vladimír Hermann, the court addressed the basic question of whether Salafism is an ideology or a movement.
The court came to the conclusion that Salafism is an ideology. The book, therefore, does not promote a movement.
"The Criminal Code of this state does not prosecute the promotion of ideology, only the promotion of specific movements. No movement is promoted in this book. That is basically the only reason the court has ruled to acquit the defendant," Hermann said today during a brief explanation of the verdict.
After police raided Muslim centers in Prague in 2014, Sáňka was accused of the crime of establishing, supporting and promoting a movement aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms. Police alleged he had committed that crime by arranging for the translation, publication and distribution of the book.
Sáňka has objected to his indictment all along and considers the charges to have been trumped-up against him. Speaking to journalists after the hearing, he said the court had made a fair and fitting decision.
"I never anticipated any other outcome. If this verdict had been different, it would have been the first case in history in which a citizen of the Czech Republic was persecuted for his convictions," Sáňka said.
The publisher's defense was built on critiquing police procedure during the investigation of the case. The defense also alleged that the book is not radical and that it just discusses one of the schools of thought within the framework of the religion of Islam.
State prosecutor Zdeňka Galková disagreed. She objected to the characterization of the book as a work of theology.
In her opinion, the book contains controversial passages about the necessity of promoting Sharia law and exhibits anti-democratic features. "I insist that Salafism in a movement," she said when explaining why she had immediately appealed the verdict.
In 2014, police raided buildings belonging to the Center of Muslim Communities in the Czech Republic, the Muslim Community of Prague, and the Islamic Foundation, both in the Černý Most neighborhood and near Wenceslas Square in the center of Prague. The raid was conducted during Friday prayers, which are of particular significance to Muslims.
Many participants in the prayer service, including foreign diplomats, complained about the raid. They did not like the fact that police forced them to lie face down on the ground, and eyewitness testimonies stated that the officers aimed weapons at them as well.
The Czech Interior Ministry found the raid to have been in order. The courts subsequently refused to hear a lawsuit from the Center of Muslim Communities seeking the finding from the court that the raid had violated their rights by disrupting their religious worship.
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