Czech Republic: Activists sentenced for stunt to draw attention to a suicide say police made hateful, racist remarks
News server Aktuálně.cz reported on 6 October that a verdict has been handed down in the case of two activists who tried to draw attention in June to the story of a man from Ostrava who committed suicide out of fear that he would become homeless after his eviction from a residential hotel. The local authority where the man was living did not approve his request for housing benefits, which meant he would no longer be able to afford to stay in the facility.
The activists used washable spray paint to create the outline of a body on the sidewalk in front of the building of the Czech lower house in Prague, and a priest said a mass for the dead man over the image. The people who created the image were arrested and charged.
Other activists washed the image from the sidewalk and brought photographs documenting the cleanup to the police station. The Prague 1 District Court has now sentenced those who created the image to suspended prison sentences of six and 10 months, six months for the person who lay down on the sidewalk and 10 months for the "sprayer" who outlined his body.
"In concert and intentionally, they damaged property not their own by spray-painting it and did so to property protected by special regulation. By so doing, they were accomplices to misdemeanor criminal damage," the court decision reads.
An amendment proposed by Czech MP Stanjura to the law on aid to those in material distress that took effect in May put thousands of people at risk of being made homeless. Governing politicians reassessed that amendment after it had been in force for roughly one month and tasked the Czech Labor Ministry with updating it.
Activists are also protesting the Labor Minister's current proposals on this issue. News server Romea.cz has interviewed one of the convicted activists who is known under the nickname Zewlakk (editors know his full name).
Q: You were protesting the fate of this man - why did he commit suicide?
A: This was a 52-year-old man from the Ostrava area who had lived in a residential hotel there for the last eight years. As you certainly know, it's a bad time for work in Ostrava, and he was unable to find employment because of his age. When the Stanjura amendment took effect he was denied housing benefits. He began to panic and did his best to sell off whatever he owned, but he did not succeed. He jumped out of a window of the residential hotel because he was afraid of becoming homeless. I did not know him personally, but the colleague with whom I performed the "happening" did.
Q: Where did you get the idea to draw attention to it in this way?
A: The lower house was discussing the option of abolishing the amendment, so we decided to do a "happening" on that day. I used to work as a surveyor, so I have experience using temporary spray paint. We wanted the MPs to see us. The priest said a mass for the man and we distributed fliers for the Platform for Social Housing.
Q: How did the police proceed?
A: The sidewalk in front of the Chamber of Deputies is guarded, so first the security guards ran out to us. They confiscated our spray paint and asked us what we were doing there. I quickly explained it to them, and then they led us inside. Then the police drove up and took us to the station. We waited there about five hours and had to listen to their hateful, racist speeches against homeless people, refugees and Roma. They asked us why we care about them when they don't deserve it and just sponge off the state budget. That was probably the worst part of the experience, listening to their talk. When we were interrogated we told them we didn't destroy anything, that I knew what I was doing with the spray paint - the police themselves use it.
Q: What do you think of the verdict?
A: It's absurd. I have no criminal record, but I have immediately been put on probation for one year. By the time we were at the police station the spray paint had been removed from the ground, which we showed them in the photos. We caused no damage, but according to the police, the prosecutor and the judge, it's a crime. We have appealed and that hearing will take place on 4 November.
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