Czech officials disperse assembly for disparaging Islam
Police dispersed a public event held yesterday called "To Mecca with Humor" and convened by the anti-Islamic Martin Konvička Initiative (IMK), which was held in front of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia on Korunovační Street in Prague and attended by approximately 50 Islamophobes. Bureaucrats from Prague City Hall called on police to disperse the gathering.
The officials justified their decision by stating that those attending the assembly were disparaging a particular religion and deviating from their originally-announced program. A couple of the IMK's well-wishers refused to leave the scene in the beginning, but by approximately 15:00 all that remained of the gathering at the embassy was a small circle of people discussing the issues.
Approximately 20 police officers were on hand, as were the bureaucrats, and they gradually left the scene. Nobody was arrested.
Konvička's backers, who were in the minority compared to the number of journalists and police officers present, dressed up as Muslims for the event and placed a portable toilet booth covered with black cloth in front of the embassy, claiming that it represented the Muslim shrine of Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Several security officials were on patrol in the garden of the embassy.
The demonstrators began to "stone" the shrine with balls of crumpled newspaper, parodying one of the sacred rituals of Islam. It was precisely that performance that the bureaucrats considered a disparagement of religious faith.
The officials then called on police to disperse the assembly. They had informed the organizers prior to the beginning of the event that they would call for it to be dispersed if the demonstrators engaged in such disparagement.
"I think that should be a matter for the court to decide. However, as long as it is the responsibility of Prague City Hall to address whether a religion is being disparaged by a public assembly or isn't, then I can clearly recall at least five or 10 pieces of art hanging in galleries here in Prague that disparage religions in some way. I recommend Prague City Hall tear down the Bethlehem Chapel, too, because Jan Hus was burned at the stake for disparaging religion," Konvička told the Czech News Agency prior to the start of the event, referencing a medieval-era religious building in Prague known for its connection with the Czech reformer of Christianity, Jan Hus.
The Czech Foreign Ministry called yesterday's event provocative and a direct insult to a religious group. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemns in the strongest possible terms any such activity that disseminates religious intolerance, introduces animosity into Czech society, and thereby damages the image of the Czech Republic in the world," the ministry posted to its website.
Konvička gave a speech calling Saudi Arabia the biggest exporter of terrorism in the world and challenging the Czech Government to expel its diplomats from the country. Within view of the embassy windows, his supporters held up a banner reading "Whoever lives as man and wife with a little girl is a pedophile."
During the assembly, Konvička and his promoters also verbally assaulted the journalists who were present. Mayor of Prague Adriana Krnáčová was targeted with verbal abuse, as were the police officers present, at whom a couple of people shouted "Gestapo, Gestapo".
Konvička told journalists yesterday that he would address City Hall's approach to his event through his lawyer. The bureaucrats did not want to comment and referred the press to the official statement of the City Hall spokesperson.
Police spokesperson Tomáš Hulan told the Czech News Agency that nobody had been arrested and that police had proceeded exclusively on the basis of the bureaucrats' request. In August the IMK had convened another anti-Islamic event, one that sparked panic among tourists, on the Old Town Square.
Konvička and his adherents appeared during that event as masked men dressed up as fighters with the so-called Islamic State and firing fake weapons. Police are investigating the event as an incident of rioting.
Mayor Adriana Krnáčová (ANO) called for the municipal bureaucrat who had allowed the assembly to go ahead to be punished. The Czech Interior Ministry, however, confirmed that the local authority had proceeded correctly.
The ministry found that there had been no legal reason to ban the event, but also said the announcement of the demonstration should have received more attention than it did. City Hall did not attempted to ban yesterday's assembly in advance either, as bureaucrats said they had no legal reason to do so.
Organizers could not be convinced to call off or move the event, not even after City Hall informed them that due to a sewage system accident, the event could not take place in front of the embassy. On Friday Vice-Mayor Petr Dolínek (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) attempted to get the event cancelled for that reason.
IMK called the sewage accident an intentional action to deter them from assembling and is considering filing a criminal report over the incident. The group convened its event yesterday to mark the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center in the USA.
Those attacks by terrorists from the Al Qaeda group took the lives of almost 3 000 victims. Friday, 10 September, also marked the beginning of the big pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, in which almost two million Muslims from 150 countries participated.
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