Extreme left activist may face charges over newspaper articles

Police in the town of Sumperk have asked state prosecutors to charge a 23-year-old man with extremist offences after he wrote articles in a far-left newspaper calling for an armed struggle to bring about the return of communist rule. The man, named as David Pecha, could become the first left-wing extremist to be prosecuted under a recently amended Czech law. Daniela Lazarova has the story.

The law on extremism, previously used to prosecute neo-Nazis, was recently amended to specifically include Communism. The amendment was pushed through by right-wing MPs who, whilst having to battle opposition from 24 Communist colleagues, felt it was important to fight extremist views on both margins of the political spectrum. But not all commentators agree as to the wisdom of punishing what they call 'verbal offences', be they left- or right-wing views. Vaclav Zak, editor-in-chief of the political bi-monthly, Listy explains why:

"Crimes should be punished only if they are deeds. If they are committed. In our country there were several people killed and the penalties were very, very low. In many cases the culprits escaped punishment altogether. There was a case in which men raided the home of a gypsy family armed with baseball bats and clubbed the father to death. The judges were unable to decide whether this was a racially motivated crime or not. Or, when a gypsy in Pisek was hounded and drowned in a river the culprits received ridiculous penalties. I think that our justice was not prepared to deal with such cases. This led to public discontent but instead of dealing with this problem our MPs passed a very tough law against verbal offences."

The law's proponents argue that ideas are contagious and that ultra-right and ultra-left wing views indirectly lead to real hate crimes. According to Mr Zak that argument does not hold water:

"If you can ascertain a direct link - that after his article came out some people went and killed some entrepreneurs in the town - then he should be punished because he really caused this criminal act. If you can't prove the link - he just wrote an article and nothing happened - he should not be punished. If you punish political opinions you will create in people a feeling of injustice - that someone is being persecuted because of his or her political views."

Incitement to class hatred and insults against the present leadership are not uncommon at Communist gatherings, and often they can be heard from the lips of MPs who are protected by parliamentary immunity. The reason why this case may get to court is that David Pecha called for an armed struggle rather that favouring a parliamentary road back to power. What impact might his words have had on the general public? According to Vaclav Zak, very little.

"I think that these people have almost no political influence. This is evident from the election results of parties who are far-left and far right. They have no support in this society. "

At present this controversial case is being studied by the state prosecutor's office in Sumperk. If charged and found guilty David Pecha may face up to 8 years in jail. In any case the decision of the state prosecutor is expected to set an important precedent.