Czech Police acted unlawfully when intervening against activists holding Czech-Romani flag
The Czech Police have apologized to Romani activist Ivana Čonková for detaining her, together with evangelical priest Mikuláš Vymětal, for holding a Czech-Romani flag together at a counter-protest of an anti-Islamic demonstration this past January. Čonková's complaint in the matter has been evaluated as partially justified.
"Dear Ms Čonková, we hereby apologize to you for the wrongs caused to you by the many errors committed by the police officers," wrote Karel Prommer, the director of the Prague 1 District Police Directorate, in a notification shown to news server Romea.cz. Police intervened against the activists and detained them on 31 January when some of the demonstrators participating in the assembly against Islam on the Old Town Square in Prague took a disliking to the fact that they were holding a Czech-Romani flag as part of their counter-protest.
"Organizers from the Dawn of Direct Democracy political party are doing their best to get police to intervene against our religious counter-protest because its participants are holding a Czech-Romani flag, which allegedly desecrates a state symbol of the Czech Republic," the counter-protest organizers posted to Facebook on the day in question. The anti-Islam demonstrators also shouted at Čonková, calling her "gypsy filth", for example.
Čonková's complaint about the police procedure contained seven points. The first point was that officers should have known that the Prague 1 Municipal Department had already ruled that the creation of the Czech-Romani flag did not constitute a misdemeanor and that holding it at a public assembly was not, therefore, a misdemeanor either.
The second point was that one plainclothes police officer did not sufficiently show his badge to her. The other points disputed her detention at the police station and the confiscation of the flag.
Čonková also complained that police did not intervene against the supporters of Czech MP Tomio Okamura in the anti-Islam demonstration who evidently were also carrying state symbols that had been altered. She also said police made an error when they ignored the incitement against Islam and Muslims in the speeches made by the group.
The police say that while Čonková had full or partial grounds for complaint on some of these points, she had no grounds for complaint on others. However, what is essential is that police director Karel Prommer believes the officers at the scene did make a mistake by proceeding on the basis of an erroneously determined legal qualification of what was occurring at the time.
Čonková and Vymětal should never have been detained and the flag should have never been confiscated. "The addition of the 'chakra' to the flag does violate the obligation under Section 9 letter j of the State Symbols Act not to alter state symbols, but in and of itself, that fact does not automatically rise to the level of the commission of a misdemeanor," the police communication reads, adding that the addition of the Romani symbol does not constitute a desecration of a state symbol of the Czech Republic, as the Prague 1 Municipal Department also previously decided.
"The officers on the scene behaved unlawfully," reads the communication. There was no basis in law for their decision to detain the activists and confiscate the flag.
The police also agree that the behavior of the plainclothes officer who refused to sufficiently show his badge was incorrect. "It is evident from your complaint - and first and foremost, it is provable from the video recordings you provided - that the officer did not sufficiently demonstrate his affiliation with the security forces to the extent necessary to serve the purpose of the requirement to show identification," Prommer writes in the communication.
However, the point where Čonková complained that the police had failed to take action against the anti-Islamic assembly was considered unfounded by the police. "The officers at the scene did not find the behavior and speeches of those participating in the assembly to rise to the level of illegality," Prommer writes, adding that police specialists on extremism monitored the entire march and found no violations.
"This complaint was considered only partially-founded (it would have been too much to expect police to agree with it all), but a reasonable explanation was given as to why some of the points were considered unfounded. On most of the points - at least the essential ones - the activist's complaint was acknowledged as correct. Primarily, the use of the 'Czech-Romani' flag was not a misdemeanor, the flag should never have been confiscated, the activists should never have been detained, and their behavior was not illegal. Why should it have been? This was primarily about expressing an opinion and freedom of speech, not about an effort to desecrate state symbols," writes Jan Potměšil of the online daily Deník Referendum.
"That's why after this 'thumbs down' (the police let itself be manipulated by racists and a formalistic officer with a weak understanding of the law) the response of the police's supervisory body deserves a 'thumbs up' for its non-formalistic, self-critical, sober evaluation of the situation. This evaluation should be some sort of satisfaction to those who not only do not break the law, but who, on the contrary, do their best to see that the constitutional principles and values on which the democratic rule of law is supposed to be based are upheld - those who honor the constitutional order and international obligations," Potměšil writes.
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