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Czech High Court upholds breakthrough verdict: Media must compensate victim of online racist discussion

18.10.2015 2:46
In 2015 the High Court in Prague upheld a fine levied against the operator of news server  Parlamentní as damages for plaintiff Jaroslav Suchý because of racist online discussion postings about him. (Photo:  voj)
In 2015 the High Court in Prague upheld a fine levied against the operator of news server Parlamentní as damages for plaintiff Jaroslav Suchý because of racist online discussion postings about him. (Photo: voj)

The High Court in Prague upheld a breakthrough verdict on 13 October by a first-instance court that sentenced the publisher of Parlamentní listy, the OUR MEDIA company, to pay compensation of CZK 150 000 to plaintiff Jaroslav Suchý for the fact that it did not delete racist discussions conducted beneath three articles published online. JUDr. Milena Opatrná said the news server "did not respect the moral or physical integrity not only of the plaintiff, but of ethnic Roma generally" when, despite repeated calls to remove the racist, xenophobic posts from its online discussions calling for the physical destruction of Romani people and for violence, it left them online for three years.

Discussion posts assailed the essence of human dignity

Opatrá added in her decision, which has since taken effect, that such behavior is unacceptable in a democratic society because the posts assaulted the very essence of human dignity without attempting a discussion of facts, and they attacked and dishonored the good name of Jaroslav Suchý. The trial also heard how Suchý attempted to reconcile and settle out of court but that the publisher did not want to negotiate.  

"I am actually satisfied with this result and very glad for it," Suchý told news server He appealed the first-instance court's verdict in February.

Suchý insisted that he be awarded compensation in the amount of CZK 200 000 as he original sought. The High Court upheld the amount awarded, CZK 150 000, because it considers it to be proportionate.

Strasbourg court also upholds publisher's liability

The judge compared the dispute to a similar case brought against Estonia involving the Delfi AS web portal which was ruled on this summer by a Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. Delfi AS left inappropriate posts online in a discussion thread for nine days before removing them, for which the Grand Chamber levied a fine equivalent to roughly CZK 50 000.

News server Parlamentní listy did not remove the racist commentaries from its discussions for three years despite being repeatedly called upon to do so. From the judgment of the European Court, moreover, it follows that EU Member States have the right to assume the operator of an internet server is liable for the commentaries posted in its online discussions that meet the criteria of so-called hate speech (i.e., hateful commentaries) as long as the servers themselves have not taken any 'corrective" steps, including without having to first be warned by the persons who might be harmed by such commentary.

In his closing arguments, Suchý also pointed out that the racist posts are still online in the discussions beneath the articles despite the operator being informed of them more than once. Defense attorney Simona Samuelson admitted as much in her closing argument:  "The plaintiff has sent me 92 e-mails and 66 text messages, but that isn't appropriate to mention here."

Suchý claims verbal attacks are continuing

The OUR MEDIA company had also appealed the original verdict of the Municipal Court in Prague in February. Chairman of the Board Jan Holoubek referred to the newspaper's 

standpoint on the issue, which it published at the end of January.

In that piece, media analyst Petr Žantovský argued that internet discussions should not be assigned "meaning that they do not have" because people "who lack something in life" are those who get involved in them. He also argued that closing such discussions would be an attack on the freedom of those posting and of the publisher.

Suchý told news server that he will now attempt to seek asylum abroad because of the discrimination he is experiencing when trying to get a job because of his ethnicity and sexual orientation, as well as the death threats he has been receiving. "I am afraid because posts have turned up in these discussions threatening me with physical destruction," he said. 

voj, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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