Slovak Supreme Court reduces politician's prison sentence for promoting neo-Nazism and paroles him, proceedings were disrupted by bomb threat
On 5 April in Bratislava, the Slovak Supreme Court overturned the judgment of the Specialized Criminal Court in the prosecution of Marian Kotleba, the chair of the ultra-nationalist "People's Party Our Slovakia" (ĽSNS) party who had originally been convicted of establishing, supporting and promoting a movement aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms and sentenced to four years and four months in prison. The Supreme Court instead found Kotleba guilty of having publicly sympathized with neo-Nazism when his party issued checks worth EUR 1 488, which is a number full of neo-Nazi symbolism.
The politician has now been convicted under a more lenient Criminal Code section of the crime of expressing sympathy for a movement aimed at suppressing fundamental human rights, and has been sentenced him to six months' imprisonment, suspended for a year and a half. In addition, Kotleba will be lose his seat in the national, unicameral legislature.
In October 2020, in his role as chair of the ĽSNS and as Governor of the Banská Bystrica Region, Kotleba was found guilty of having issued checks in the amount of EUR 1 488 euros and of holding a public ceremony at the Business Academy in Banská Bystrica during which they were displayed; the numbers 14 and 88 are different white supremacist references. Presiding Supreme Court Justice Pavol Farkaš read out the court's decision.
According to Farkaš, the Supreme Court did not believe Kotleba's defense when he claimed that the amount of EUR 1 488 on the checks was just a coincidence. The court found it hard to believe that Kotleba had handed out checks with such neo-Nazi symbolism by chance on the anniversary of the founding of the Slovak State (1939-1945), which was a client state of Nazi Germany.
"The defendant must have been aware of these symbols," the justice said. On the other hand, the Supreme Court did not agree with the conclusion of the Specialized Criminal Court in Pezinok according to which Kotleba directly promoted neo-Nazi ideology by engaging in this public stunt.
The Supreme Court said such promotion is to be understood as the dissemination of such ideas and their presentation with the aim of addressing other persons about them. However, such conduct by the defendant had not been proven reliably beyond the shadow of a doubt, in the view of the Supreme Court.
"In our opinion, the mere presentation of such symbols or slogans is not enough," Farkaš said. Since Kotleba has now been convicted of committing a crime with intent, he automatically loses his seat as a member of the Slovak legislature.
The lawmaker replacing Kotleba in the legislature should be Slavěna Vorobelová, who is not a member of the ĽSNS. After the judgment was announced, Slovak MEP Peter Pollák said he does not agree with the decision to give Kotleba a suspended sentence.
"I am convinced that Kotleba, with his views and especially because of his repeated deeds, should have been given an unconditional prison sentence! I disagree with the adjudication of the Supreme Court!" the MEP posted to Facebook.
The case was heard by the Supreme Court on 5 April at 10 AM without Kotleba himself being present. On the morning of Monday, 4 April he announced he would not be attending the Supreme Court session "for serious personal and lawful reasons".
At the same time, the defendant asked the court not to rule in his absence. The court rejected that request and began its deliberations.
The session was interrupted shortly after 11 AM, however, because someone reported there was a bomb in the courthouse. The attorney for Marian Kotleba, Tomáš Rosina, stated in court that his client would not take part in the trial because he has a sick son.
"Since his mother has been abroad for a long time and the child is dependent on me when he is ill, I cannot take care of him other than in person," Kotleba explained in writing to the court. Prosecutor Tomáš Honz did not consider the reasons for Kotleba's absence to be credible and suggested the court session be held in the defendant's absence.
The Senate of the Supreme Court, consisting of justices Pavol Farkaš, Martina Zeleňáková and Dušan Krč-Šebera, decided after a brief consultation to continue in Kotleba's absence. "I note that this excuse arrived yesterday after 15:00, at the last moment. From the document available to us it is not apparent what kind of ailment is involved. It is also necessary to say that this public session was initiated by the defendant himself, exactly by his appeal, and that it is up to him to arrange all his affairs such that he can participate," Farkaš summarized the decision to proceed without the defendant in court.
Dozens of Kotleba supporters had originally been preparing to express support for their boss in front of Bratislava's Palace of Justice. As of 14:00 on 5 April, no supporters had made it there.
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