Czech court hands down suspended three-year sentence to man who praised the terrorism in Christchurch, prosecutor appeals
Leoš Machálek, a man who used the Internet to praise the terrorist attack committed in Christchurch, New Zealand last year, was given what a Czech court said was the strictest possible sentence last week of three years in prison, suspended for a probationary period of five years. The prosecutor had sought five years in prison and has appealed the length of the sentence.
When a video was posted online capturing the mass murder of Muslims inside mosques in Christchurch, Machálek commented that the shooter was a "badass". He then defended himself in court by claiming to have believed that the video footage was of an attack by allied military forces on Islamist radicals.
The Czech Criminal Code establishes a sentence of between five and 15 years in prison as the punishment for supporting and promoting terrorism. According to the presiding judge on the panel hearing the case at the Municipal Court in Prague, Judge Kateřina Radkovská, it would have been too strict to sentence Machálek to prison without the possibility of parole or probation.
"Given the circumstances of the case and that the defendant has no criminal record, and above all because his criminal activity consisted of writing a single comment, the court believes it is sufficient to hand down a suspended sentence as an educational punishment," the presiding judge said. "We hope the defendant will learn his lesson," she added; Machálek has accepted the punishment and will not appeal.
The court has established a five-year probationary period for Machálek, and during that time he will have to demonstrate, through his behavior, that writing that comment was an isolated excess. Machálek posted the comment to the server called drsnysvet.cz ("roughworld.cz") on the morning of 17 March 2019, two days after the massacre was committed in New Zealand.
He was responding to an article called "How the attacker on the mosque in New Zealand committed the shooting". Specifically, he wrote the following: "It sounds stupid, but I'd join him? What have these Muslim scum done to Europe? They're dealt with as if they were lambs, though. They don't following the laws of the country that has met them halfway. I say he's a badass."
Machálek, who is from Moravia, lives in a small community where he works as a cook and is a volunteer firefighter. He is not a member of any extremist groups.
The defendant told the court that he fears for his family in association with Muslims, because "in the news there are always some terrorist attacks and Muslims are always behind them"; he has two children. "I didn't read that this was a terrorist attack. I regret making that comment," he told the court.
Machálek claimed to have just seen the introductory 10 seconds of the video footage, specifically the attacker "kicking in the doors and shooting the first person". Then he says he turned off the video and posted his opinion.
"I believed it was an attack by allied forces against the Islamic State," he said in his defense. The presiding judge, however, said his version of events could not be believed.
The video filmed by the shooter that had been uploaded to the website was screened in the courtroom, and from the footage it was apparent that the first six minutes of that recording involves the attacker's journey by car to the scene of the crime and that the shooting in the first mosque begins only at that point. The court also did not believe the claim that Machálek did not suspect that what transpired in Christchurch was a terrorist attack.
Radkovská pointed out that all Czech media outlets had reported that information. "The defendant would have had to have been living alone in the woods or on a desert island to be able to make that claim," she said.
Last week the Municipal Court in Prague also handed down a suspended three-year prison sentence against 50-year-old Václav Klestil for approving of that same terrorist attack on Facebook. Renáta Pelikánová left her trial for a similar crime last week with a slightly milder suspended sentence of two years.
Brenton Tarrant, a right-wing extremist from Australia, shot 51 children, men and women to death in two mosques in Christchurch last year. He broadcast his crime live through the Internet.
He has been charged with 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder, and with terrorism and faces a sentence of up to life in prison. He originally denied having committed the shootings but unexpectedly confessed to them a year later.
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