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Czech Justice Minister leaving politics because most of his fellow ANO members hold different opinions about human rights

16.4.2018 15:31
Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikán (center) visited socially excluded localities in the Moravian-Silesian Region on 28 March 2018. (PHOTO:  Czech Justice Ministry)
Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikán (center) visited socially excluded localities in the Moravian-Silesian Region on 28 March 2018. (PHOTO: Czech Justice Ministry)

Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikán (ANO) will not be in the next Government and is ending his political career. News server Aktuálně.cz published an interview in which he made the announcement on 8 April.

The minister is also a member of the lower house and would like to leave that post as well, but has not said when. Among other matters, he explained his decision as being due to his differences of opinion with the ANO movement about the human rights field.

Pelikán plans to remain a member of the ANO movement. In the interview he said he will not leave the current cabinet, which is outgoing, and that he is technically unable to resign from it.

The minister could ask the President to release him from his current function. He said he does not want to make more work for his colleagues by doing so.

Pelikán has been considering leaving for some time, but his decision to extradite the Russian hacker, Yevgeniya Nikulin, to the USA was a contributing factor to his departure. "I anticipated that [decision] would spark a reaction of animosity from some political entities in the Czech Republic and I did not want to burden the negotiations about a future Government with that," he explained.

Another reason he gave for leaving is that his opinions and stances are not always in accordance with the majority standpoint of the ANO movement. According to him, this includes attitudes toward the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) movement, although that is not the only reason.

"It is very difficult for me to find any MPs in our club who comprehend me when it comes to human rights," said Pelikán, who also chairs the Czech Government Human Rights Council. He does not share the opinion of most ANO members about how to approach people who have been socially excluded.

"Many of our MPs, as many as four-fifths of them, are pressing for a harsh approach toward such people," the minister said. "I believe we must respect the fact that we are all human beings. These people have children, and those children are not responsible for any of this. Excluding and intimidating them aids nothing."

When asked whether he was discussing the Romani minority, the minister answered:  "I don't like it when Romani people are discussed in this context. More than half of the Romani people in this country are fully integrated. Certainly, in the excluded localities the vast majority of people living in social exclusion are Romani. However, it is not the case that anybody who is Romani here is also most probably socially excluded. All these matters are important to me, but I'm not finding much comprehension of them in the movement."

Pelikán said he did not want to call the attitude of those who find him incomprehensible extremism, although the ANO movement does include MPs whose opinions are indeed extreme. "I must admit, however, that my opinions, based in humanism, are generally a minority opinion in society. However, I refuse to abandon them. There is too big of a difference between my political opinions and those that I consider the mainstream in our movement today. It seems to me that these directions have diverged too much. I consider it honest to end my active political career at such a moment," he said.

Babiš: Pelikán represented urban intellectuals in the ANO movement and his voice will be missed

The outgoing Justice Minister communicated his decision to leave politics to the Prime Minister roughly one month ago. Babiš said Pelikán has been in charge of a difficult ministry and that he has done a very good job.

"I know that he did not like the statements by some of our colleagues, MPs from ANO, about Mr Ondráček when he ran for the chair of the commission monitoring GIBS [security services oversight]. He felt that this new club in the lower house had different opinions than him on some questions," the PM told the websites Aktuálně.cz and on 8 April.

The PM went on to say that Pelikán had been a representative of urban intellectuals in the ANO movement. His voice will be missed, according to the PM.

Pelikán says he intends to return to practicing law after leaving the ministry. He also wants to continue lecturing at the Faculty of Law, where he currently holds a very part-time (10 %) position.

Before leaving politics, the minister said he would like to advocate for legislative changes in the lower house so that people who have ended up in the debt trap can achieve debt forgiveness. "I'm glad that I have achieved the approval of the explanatory memorandum for the law on class action lawsuits, those are very important," he said.

"Now we are completing legislation on electronic monitoring devices for persons on probation and a new system for choosing judges," the minister said. His decision to extradite Nikulin to the USA - when Russia was also seeking his extradition - has been criticized by Czech President Zeman.

Zeman had requested of Pelikán that Nikulin be repatriated instead. According to the President, the extradition of Nikulin could play a role in the domestic political struggles in the USA and the Czech Republic should not get involved in such conflicts.

The decision was also criticized by former Czech President Václav Klaus and by the chair of the Communists, Vojtěch Filip. The Communist chair told journalists on 8 April that he intends to question the Justice Minister about the extradition in the lower house.

Filip also said many tasks on the agenda of the Justice Ministry remain uncompleted. Pelikán's decision to extradite the Russian hacker to the US has been welcomed by the chair of TOP 09, Jiří Pospíšil, and by Czech MP Miroslava Němcová (Civic Democratic Party - ODS).

The Justice Minister's relations with the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) movement have also been tense recently. In February he said the SPD is a Fascist party.

In respect of the negotiations being led by ANO with the SPD about support for a Government, the minister said it would be unacceptable for him to be in a Government that would be based on SPD support in any way. He also criticized Okamura's remarks about the Protectorate-era concentration camp for Romani people at Lety u Písku.

Okamura erroneously alleged in January that the concentration camp at Lety had never been fenced and that prisoners had been free to come and go from it. He later apologized for being imprecise and then erroneously alleged that the Lety camp had not been guarded most of the time and that prisoners had been able to move about freely inside it.

"I emphatically demand that you stop comparing which of these tragedies was more tragic and stop this competition over who was annihilated in a worse way," Pelikán said to Okamura at the beginning of February. Speaking on Czech Television on 8 April, Okamura said Pelikán's departure from the head of the Justice Ministry would not be a significant loss either to Czech politics or to the ministry itself, in his view.

ČTK, Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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