Czech protest against new ombudsman marches through second-largest city
Last week approximately 300 people participated in a march in Brno, the Czech Republic's second-largest city, called "Let's Stand Up to the Decline of Institutions". The march was held in response to the election of Stanislav Křeček as the Public Defender of Rights (the ombudsman), who has said that on his watch that institution will not focus on the discrimination that happens against Romani people and that members of the Romani minority are "inactive".
Petr Štika, secretary for the Brno-střed municipal department, gave that estimate of the number of marchers to the Czech News Agency. The organizing association, "Brno Together" (Společně Brno) said they were joining the "Million Moments for Democracy" group, which held an event of that same kind on Sunday in Prague.
Those opposed to the new ombudsman had previously protested in front of the Office of the Public Defender of Rights in Brno and refused to allow him into the building on his first day of work, 20 February. Those marching last week assembled at the Office of the Public Defender of Rights as well.
The crowd then marched to Jakubské náměstí, carrying an effigy of a chair that was more than two meters high. The back of the chair read "Democracy", while its four legs were named "Courts", "Government", "Laws" and "Media".
Several people spoke at Jakubské náměstí, such as Hana Strašáková of Brno Together; student Ondřej Zeman, who filed a criminal report against the chair of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) Vojtěch Filip last year after Filip accused Million Moments of being involved in a cyber attack on a hospital in Benešov; and Czech Senator Zdeněk Papoušek (for the Christian Democrats - KDU-ČSL). Organizers said they do not just want to passively watch what is happening in the Czech Republic and that they are joining the Million Moments protest, through which they want to draw attention to the abuse of political power.
Those protesting in Brno alleged some politicians had elected the new ombudsman just to spite public opinion. "They abused their political power, therefore, which they have acquired from the votes of the electorate - which means us, the public - when they chose a person to head the office in charge of human rights here who angers the public and who is, in our opinion, incompetent when it comes to making use of that authority," said Strašáková.
"His public statements make our hair stand on end, they have absolutely nothing to do with defending human rights," Strašáková observed. According to her, there is a risk that abuse of power will also happen during the election of members to the board of public broadcaster Czech Television and politicians will put "their people" in the posts of those who are meant to make sure public media remains independent.
"Those institutions can then become an amplifier for politicians just as they have in Hungary. This society should not allow the public broadcast media to be stolen from us," Vojtěch Vašák, the founder of the "I'm for Czech Television" (Stojím za ČT) initiative, which co-organized last week's Brno protest, told those assembled.
"We don't want to go down the same road as Hungary and Poland," Vašák added. A previous protest against the new ombudsman was held directly in front of the Office of the Public Defender of Rights in Brno.
Opponents and supporters of the new ombudsman assembled there and his opponents attempted to prevent him accessing the office. The situation was solved by police and the entrance was cleared after several protesters were arrested.
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