Country’s most notorious criminal released after 23 years

Jiří Kajínek, photo: CTK

The country’s most notorious prisoner, Jiří Kajínek, is a free man: on Tuesday he was released from prison after receiving a presidential pardon. He served 23 years of his life sentence for two contract killings in the 1990s. The president said in April he was not convinced of Mr Kajínek’s guilt and Kajínek himself always denied committing the crimes.

Jiří Kajínek,  photo: CTK
Jiří Kajínek was one of the Czech Republic’s best-known prisoners in large part because of his escape from Mirov prison and subsequent recapture in 2000 after 40 days on the run. It wasn’t even his first escape from a jail: the gangland member, who had picked up previous convictions including 11 years for armed robbery, was on the run when he allegedly committed the murders for which he was later sentenced for life - the killing of a businessman and his bodyguard.

Following his recapture, Janek Kroupa and Josef Klíma, then journalists for TV Nova, reported extensively on inconsistencies in Kajínek’s case. The prisoner, a “tank” from countless sits-ups and push-ups, appealed repeatedly but without success for a new trial. The making of his life story into a feature film, with top Czech actors only added to what psychologists described as the prisoner’s “cult status”.

Years later, Kajínek is a free man at the age of 56, pardoned by President Miloš Zeman, who has issued only a handful of pardons since taking office. On Tuesday, the prisoner was released from Rýnovice prison in Jablonec nad Nisou where reporters and members of the public were waiting. After words of thanks, Mr Kajínek took reporters’ questions, including where he would now go.

“I know exactly where I am headed… but I don’t think it would be fair for everyone to know. I heard many times over the years that at least in jail no one would kill me and that I was safe there or that I would be killed upon my release.

Jiří Kajínek,  photo: CTK
“As I said many times in the past: I would rather die free than ‘barely get by’ in jail. I am not afraid, I am not worried, but I don’t think anyone needs to know exactly where I live, if that’s ok.”

Kajínek described how he had imagined leaving jail one day alone, unnoticed through the main gate to walk several kilometres to the nearest town and take in those first moments of freedom. Instead, on Tuesday, he was picked up by a friend and later spotted in the company of a blonde woman in the Czech capital, eating pizza and enjoying a boat ride on the Vltava River.

Prior to his release, a Median agency poll suggested that the majority of the public – 54 percent - backed Mr Kajínek’s pardon compared to 36 percent who were against. But others have criticized his release or expressed fears the pardon of a convicted murderer set at a poor precedent. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka himself said he was not pleased the pardon had “turned Mr Kajínek into a celebrity”. Others see the decision by President Zeman to pardon the ‘cult’ prisoner as a political masterstroke, if a cynical one, which will bolster support among his voters to try and win him a second term.