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Czech Public Defender of Rights says municipal bans on sitting in public are unconstitutional

1.2.2016 0:45
Anna Šabatová on the program
Anna Šabatová on the program "Questions with Václav Moravec"", 23 February 2014 (Photo: Czech Television)

News server iDNES.cz reports that Czech Public Defender of Rights Anna Šabatová is asking the Constitutional Court to overturn some parts of ordinances adopted by the northern Bohemian towns of Litvínov and Varnsdorf banning people from sitting down outdoors on low walls or steps. Similar ordinances have multiplied in recent years, but Šabatová believes they violate freedom of movement and are unconstitutional.

The generally binding ordinances banning people from sitting on curbs, on the ground, on parapets or on steps involve many other towns besides Litvínov and Varnsdorf, most of them in northern Bohemia. Last year such ordinances were adopted, for example, by Duchcov and Most, and have been in place for a longer time in the towns of Bílina, Krupka, or Rotava.

Such a verdict from the Czech Constitutional Court, according to Šabatová, would serve as a precedent that the rest of these other towns would then have to comply with by abolishing their relevant ordinances. "I am of the opinion that municipalities cannot interfere so forcefully with freedom of movement. The option to take a seat is part of that freedom," Šabatová told iDNES.cz.

The aim of the ordinances has been to prevent "disruptions of public order in the town, to protect public greenery, and to increase the aesthetic value of the town's appearance." In practice, however, they mean that anyone who sits down on a curb to eat an ice cream cone or leans on a railing in front of a school has committed a misdemeanor offense.

"I consider such regulations absurd. Sitting on something that is not a bench is not an activity that is harmful in and of itself. It is disproportionate to combat vandalism by banning everyone from an activity that does not necessarily lead to vandalism. For example, a mother watching her children at a playground where there is no bench would have to stand the entire time [to comply]," Šabatová said.

Šabatová first criticized the ordinances last fall. However, she had to wait for the Czech Interior Ministry to decide whether it would take action on the matter before taking advantage of her right to turn to the Constitutional Court.

The Interior Ministry says it has found no problem with the ordinances. Czech Senator Václav Láska is also criticizing them and is preparing to sue the town of Rotava in the Karlovy Vary Region over its ordinances before the Constitutional Court.

According to the chair of the Union of Cities and Municipalities of the Czech Republic, František Lukl, municipalities have adopted the ordinances in cases where people are allegedly failing to follow what he called the "basic" rules of "decent" behavior in public. "That's why they have to go to this extreme step of clearly establishing rules for how people are supposed to behave in a public space," Lukl said.

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Anna Šabatová, Krupka, Litvínov, Ombudsman, Ústavní soud, Varnsdorf, vyhláška



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