Czech Prosecutor General insists online hate speech is a felony, Supreme Court agrees
The Czech daily Právo reports that a woman from Plzeň is currently facing trial for hateful commentaries posted to Facebook last year. She had initially been fined just CZK 500 [EUR 20] for the offense by a local administrative body that addresses misdemeanors against public order.
After the Czech Prosecutor General asked the Supreme Court in Brno to intervene, the local bureaucrats have now annulled their decision and sent the case back to the courts as a suspected felony. Currently the woman faces up to three years in prison for inciting hatred against a group of people.
The 26-year-old commented through Facebook on a news report featuring video footage of refugee families who had been found concealed inside of long-haul trucks along with goods being transported and who were subsequently put on buses to be transported to a detention camp in February of last year. "And we will be paying for them," the woman posted.
"Why didn't they just set those buses on fire?" the woman then complained. She defended her opinion in further comments when others objected and pointed out that some of the migrants were children.
"Once those children grow up and rape our children, then we can talk about it. They won't grow up to be anything normal," the woman alleged.
"Do you want it to look like France or Germany here?" she argued. Police later opened criminal proceedings against her and the prosecutor indicted her in April 2018.
The District Court decided her behavior had not been so harmful to society as to rise to the level of criminal liability. The court sent the case to the local misdemeanor commission for that reason.
Prosecutor General Pavel Zeman then filed a motion with the Supreme Court in Brno for the lower-court verdict and the misdemeanor commission's decision to be overturned, the Supreme Court agreed with his analysis and ordered a new hearing of the case. "The law does not determine what form speech must take in order to qualify as incitement," the Supreme Court explained.
"Incitement can be performed either covertly or directly, and the hateful act being called for does not have to be triggered as a result of the speech in order for incitement to have occurred," the Supreme Court explained. The misdemeanor commission's decision to impose sanctions before the Supreme Court managed to review the prosecutor's appeal was a barrier to simply reopening a hearing, however.
At the Supreme Court's recommendation, the local bureaucrats annulled their original decision as part of a so-called review procedure, which the Misdemeanor Act provides for as a form of extraordinary remedy. The local officials chose to follow that approach because a defendant cannot be punished twice for the same act.
"Should facts come to light that justify assessing an act as a felony when it has already been adjudicated with final effect as a misdemeanor, the relevant administrative body shall overturn its decision in a review procedure," the Supreme Court said, citing the remedy for overturning the legal consequences of an administrative body decision after it has taken effect. "The decision by the Misdemeanor Commission of the Plzeň 3 Municipal Department, which had taken effect, was overturned in a review procedure by City Hall as the supervisory administrative body, and the entire case file was returned to the Plzeň-město District Court for the purposes of hearing the indictment," Milan Knotek, spokesperson for the Municipal Department of Plzeň 3, told the daily Právo.
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