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Czech Supreme Court: Nazi salute not illegal when everyone does it

Czech Republic, 1.12.2011 14:41, (ROMEA)

A man who gave the Nazi salute at a costume party organized by the ultra-right National Resistance (Národní odpor - NO) has been acquitted. The Czech Supreme Court has rejected an appeal filed by Supreme State Prosecutor Pavel Zeman, who has now failed to have first and second-instance acquittals handed down by courts in Prague overturned. The courts have ruled that the giving of the Nazi salute in this case was not an example of the public commission of this crime because it was committed at a closed event where everyone else present was also engaging in the same behavior.

The event at issue occurred last year just before Christmas. The NO organized a Christmas costume party at a bar in Prague, to which one guest came dressed as Adolf Hitler. When the other guests saw him, they started greeting him with the Nazi salute and shouting the Nazi greeting "Sieg Heil". An expert witness later evaluated video footage of the event. Most of the 15 people giving the salute could not be identified.

The prosecution originally claimed the man had publicly committed the crime of supporting and promoting a movement aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms. According to the Czech Penal Code, this crime is considered to have been committed "publicly" only if more than two persons are present whose views differ from the perpetrator's. According to the Czech Supreme Court, that condition was not met in this case because, according to the evidence available, everyone present was also giving the Nazi salute. There was no one present at the scene of the crime who could have been influenced or shocked by the behavior.

"The perpetrator has not committed the crime of such behavior publicly if he has committed it in front of persons who are committing the same behavior together with him, i.e., de facto in front of accomplices," reads the verdict handed down by a panel of judges chaired by Justice Michal Mikláš. The verdict was issued at the end of this summer without oral arguments and has only now become accessible in the database.

In his appeal, the Supreme State Prosecutor asserted it had been the defendant's clear intention to communicate his positive attitude toward the neo-Nazi movement in front of the other people attending the event. The prosecution believes it was irrelevant whether those present also sympathized with the neo-Nazi movement or not. The crime allegedly presented a sufficient level of danger to society to warrant prosecution.

The defendant's response to the appeal argued that the Supreme State Prosecutor wanted to criminalize mere attendance at the event, adding that in that particular situation everyone attending was an accomplice, which meant no one was committing the crime publicly. The giving of the salute was said to have been spontaneous and to have lasted about seven seconds. The defendant was said to have spoken only part of the "Sieg Heil" greeting and was, moreover, completely obviously under the influence of alcohol.

The defendant also pointed out that he has a clean criminal record. With hindsight he called his behavior inappropriate. He also claimed that he strictly condemns the Nazi movement and does not identify with its ideals at all. While the Supreme Court verdict did not reveal the defendant's name, it is clear from the titles listed that he is a lawyer by education.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, TÝDEN.cz, lidovky.cz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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