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Outgoing Czech ombudswoman assessed her seven years in office before the lower house today

23.1.2020 18:05
Anna Šabatová, Public Defender of Rights, Czech Republic (2018). (PHOTO: ROMEA TV)
Anna Šabatová, Public Defender of Rights, Czech Republic (2018). (PHOTO: ROMEA TV)

Anna Šabatová, the outgoing Czech ombudswoman, assessed her term in office before the lower house today, saying that while the Office of the Public Defender of Rights in the Czech Republic has reviewed tens of thousands of complaints, paradoxically what is spoken of in association with their work is just headscarves worn by Muslim women and the leasing of apartments to Romani people. When discussing her report on the activity of the Office of the Public Defender of Rights last year she also expressed her view of the upcoming vote in the lower house for her successor.

"Don't let yourselves be fooled by nice talk. I would like you to choose the person who will truthfully, honestly and bravely interpret the law for the benefit of all who turn to the office and to those who are legally obligated to protect them," Šabatová said.

The candidates to succeed her are her own former Deputy Public Defender of Rights Stanislav Křeček, the representative of the Czech Republic before the European Court of Human Rights Vít Alexander Schorm, and attorney Jan Matys. Her remarks about headscarves and about leasing apartments to Romani people referenced the much-publicized scandal around a student who was not allowed to wear a hijab to her school.

The other case referenced was about the approach taken by a real estate agent who refused to provide a lease on an apartment to a Romani woman at the express wish of the client she was representing. "It's as if all the other cases never existed. Another paradox is that in both of those cases about which so much has been said, the affected persons on their own later defended themselves by suing and succeeded before the independent courts," she noted.

The outgoing ombudswoman emphasized that if a plaintiff is in the right, the Public Defender of Rights should back that person even if doing so would not earn applause in the public arena. During the subsequent debate, she again faced criticism from MPs with the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) and Tricolor movements.

According to the SPD chair, Czech MP Tomio Okamura, Šabatová is protecting minorities [which he considers negative] and "inadaptables", while according to Czech MP Zuzana Majerová Zahradníková (Tricolor), the Office of the Public Defender of Rights has been abused to promote what she called the "New Left" and has therefore been discredited. Representatives of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) and the Pirates, on the other hand, defended the outgoing ombudswoman.

Šabatová did not express her view of the reproaches made during the plenary session. Okamura alleged that the Office of the Public Defender of Rights is not fulfilling its assignment.

The SPD chair accused the outgoing ombudswoman of having an elitist world view and said he believed that she had damaged the image of the office. According to the head of the SPD club in the lower house, Czech MP Radim Fiala, under Ša'batová's leadership the office has become a place supporting what he called "inadaptables" and the "multicultural and pro-migration policies of the European Union".

For her part, Majerová Zahradníková alleged the Office of the Public Defender of Rights has become a politicized institution and is succumbing to what she termed "political correctness, genderism and multiculturalism". Tricolor recently filed a motion for the absolute abolition of the Office of the Public Defender of Rights.

Czech MP František Kopřiva of the Pirate Party responded to Okamura's performance by called it "fertilizer". He also expressed gratitude to the outgoing ombudswoman, as did Czech MP Alena Gajdůšková (ČSSD).

"We should support this authority," Gajdůšková emphasized. Czech Culture Minister Lubomír Zaorálek (ČSSD) said that in his judgment, people of Šabatová's "type" are a good fit for an authority such as the Office of the Public Defender of Rights.

"Irrespective of the regime, [such people] are able to stand on the side of those who have the least power. She looks for those who are the most powerless," he said.

The discussion of the report on the activity of the Office of the Public Defender of Rights for last year was not completed by the Chamber of Deputies. It is not yet clear when they will return to it.

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Housing, Ombud, Poslanecká sněmovna, Romani people



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