Czech Republic: Protests against Islam and for religious freedom in front of Prague Castle
Roughly 600 people, according to police, gathered yesterday evening in front of Prague Castle for a demonstration convened by the "We Don't Want Islam in the Czech Republic" initiative. The protest assembly lasted for roughly one hour and took place without any larger incidents.
Another 20 people were at the scene demonstrating for the rights of Muslims and members of other religious groups. The opponents of Islam assembled on Hradčanské Square with Czech flags and banners reading "Europe, wake up!", "Moderate Islam does not exist" and "Islam is evil".
The organizers had told authorities they anticipated as many as 4 000 participants and distributed badges and signs among the protesters with the logo of the initiative, which shows a mosque with a line through it. Czech MP Marek Černoch, vice-chair of the "Dawn of Direct Democracy" (Úsvit) movement and Jana Černochová, the vice-chair of the Civic Democratic Party's (ODS) club in the lower house, were among the politicians who addressed the demonstration.
Czech MP Tomio Okamura, the boss of Úsvit, was among the demonstrators. "We want to preserve Czech tradition, it doesn't matter from which religion," Černoch declared.
According to the MP, the first step toward doing so would be to adopt an amendment to the law on churches drafted by the initiative. Its authors claim the amendment would aid in preventing the dissemination of radical ideas.
If adopted, any church or religious society claiming special rights would not be permitted to raise the concern that it might endanger the foreign policy interests of the Czech Republic. Such a religious organization would also not be permitted to raise suspicions that it might pose a threat to national security or public order.
The police and secret services would have to issue a binding declaration regarding a religious organization's request for acknowledgement. It is not completely clear what kind of support the amendment might have in the Chamber of Deputies.
Černochová told the Czech News Agency that she had not yet read the bill and could not comment on it. She added that she did not believe the people protesting against Islam were extremists.
"I would like the representatives of the Muslim community in the Czech Republic to be here with us today to clearly distance themselves from what is happening in Europe and the world," she said, referring to the recent terrorist attack on the editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD), however, expressed his disagreement with the demonstration.
"This is a bit of an unnecessary sparking of fear and hatred, because we have not noted any Islamist threat in the Czech Republic," he told the Czech News Agency and Czech Television. "Categorizing people, the principle of collective blame and intolerance that are being applied here, albeit by a relatively small group of people for the time being, is a very dangerous principle that contravenes the basis of a democratic, free society."
In addition to those opposed to Islam, several defenders who believe every religion has the right to exist demonstrated in front of the Castle as well yesterday. They arrived with banners reading "Masaryk would not be afraid" and "We don't want hate in the Czech Republic".
The conveners of the demonstration against Islam announced that they also wanted to honor the memory of the recent victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris. "We are familiarizing the public with our perspective on Islam and its expansion in Europe, we are naming the risks it poses to the Czech Republic, and we are introducing legislative and security demands which, if adopted, will prevent the Islamization of our country," their declaration reads.
According to the Center of Muslim Communities in the Czech Republic, however, the actions of the Paris attackers have nothing in common with Islam. The chair of the Center, Muneeb Hasan Alravi, told the Czech News Agency on Thursday that Muslims in the Czech Republic are facing threats, most often by e-mail, that include death threats against all Muslims after the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
The demonstrations were monitored by police both in and out of uniform. They reported that they took place without any larger incidents, with officers noting only verbal skirmishes.
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