Czech ombudswoman: Haters online frequently refuse to admit to themselves that they could be breaking the law
Czech Public Defender of Rights Anna Šabatová, also known as the ombudswoman, considers hate speech online to be one of the biggest problems in the Czech public sphere today. "Sometimes the hatred that is being disseminated is so frightening it makes your blood run cold," she said in an interview for public broadcaster Czech Television's ČT24 channel.
"I am willing to do a great deal to stand up and fight for freedom of speech," said Šabatová, who was a dissident during communism. "I believe speech is not limited here in the Czech Republic, that right actually applies in our country. However, according to the European Convention on Human Rights and other conventions, free speech has its limits. Those limits are the rights of others, as well as public safety and public order. It's necessary that people realize this," she said, adding that when writing hateful posts online, authors frequently refuse to admit to themselves that they could be breaking the law.
According to an analysis of first-instance court verdicts in the Czech Republic convicting people of online hatred between 2016 and mid-2019 that was performed by the ombudswoman's office, of 47 such verdicts, 43 of the convicted perpetrators were first-time offenders. There were two women among them and the rest were all men.
In the interview, Šabatová also reflects on her time in office. She is not convinced that democracy in the Czech Republic is endangered, unlike the situation in other post-communist countries.
"We must be vigilant, though," the ombudswoman said about that issue. Her term will end in February 2020 and lawmakers are already looking for somebody to succeed her.
Czech President Zeman has already proposed the lawyers Lenka Marečková and Monika Šimůnková for the Deputy Public Defender of Rights post, which is also up for renewal. The Czech Senate has also nominated Šimůnková, a former Human Rights Commissioner, for that role.
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