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Czech Interior Ministry: Prayers against extremism not an exercise of religious freedom

Prague, 13.4.2011 17:28, (ROMEA)

The Czech Interior Ministry says the action taken by police on Saturday in the town of Krupka against chaplains conducting people in prayer was in order. The worshipers had traveled to Krupka to support local Roma residents there. Their aim was to prevent a march convened by the extremist Workers' Social Justice Party (Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti - DSSS) from passing through a housing estate predominantly inhabited by Roma people. The organizers of the prayer assembly reject the Interior Ministry's claims and are preparing to file a constitutional complaint and take other legal steps over the police intervention against the religious service.

The ministry believes the intervention was performed in accordance with the law. One participant in the prayer meeting allegedly behaved aggressively toward the intervening police officers. According to the ministry's press release on the incident, officers were not intervening against a religious assembly, but against a counter-demonstration blocking the announced DSSS march. "If an allegedly religious assembly is a counter-demonstration against certain political opinions, it is not an exercise of religious freedom. Such a church assembly is just an ordinary, unannounced assembly and must be handled as such," the ministry claims in its press release.

Evžen Martínek of the "We Don't Want Neo-Nazis in Ústí" Initiative (Iniciativa V Ústí neonacisty nechceme) disagrees with this analysis and is preparing a constitutional complaint to address the problem. He is also considering a lawsuit against the police for causing harm to several participants in the religious assembly.

Police are rejecting claims that they gave protection to the right-wing extremists. After the demonstration ended, police arrested a man from Slovakia and a court sentenced him to a six-month suspended sentence and two years' probation yesterday. In the speech he gave at the DSSS assembly he incited hatred against a particular ethnic group. The court also confiscated objects with Nazi symbols on them from him which he had with him during the event.

Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková says events like Saturday's DSSS march are very dangerous. "Roma people were confronted with vulgar insults and threats and were forced to leave the area near their homes to make way for the aggressive promoters of the DSSS. This situation primarily has a devastating influence on children and can impact their further development and their sense of security," she said today.

The right-wing radicals wanted their march to draw attention to an incident that took place in Krupka not quite one year ago, when two young Roma men brutally beat and raped a 12-year-old [non-Roma] boy. A first-instance court sent one of the assailants to prison for 10 years, but the appeals court reduced his sentence by half. The courts found the attack was racially motivated. The other assailant was not criminally prosecuted because he was not yet 15 years old at the time he committed the crime.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, vot, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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