Pre-1989 case casts pall over top court appointments

 Petr Pavel, Robert Fremr and Kateřina Ronovská

The Senate met on Wednesday to consider three judges nominated for places on the Constitutional Court. However, the candidacy of Robert Fremr for Czechia’s top court sparked controversy, following recent allegations of impropriety pre-1989.

The Senate gathered on Wednesday to consider three names put forward by President Petr Pavel to be Constitutional Court justices. They had all been approved already by two upper house committees.

However allegations published last week put one of the nominees, Robert Fremr, in the spotlight.

Robert Fremr | Photo: Tomáš Černý,  Czech Radio

Mr. Fremr has served on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Court in a successful career.

However, the independent news outlet Hlídací Pes reported that the judge had issued a guilty verdict in a Communist rigged trial in 1988.

He gave three young men five to eight year sentences for vandalism and promoting fascism for damaging graves of Russian and Bulgarian soldiers at a Prague cemetery.

But the 19-year-old the StB secret police presented as the ringleader, Alexandr Eret, was not even present.

Cleric Petr Pazdera Payne was himself involved in dissident activities pre-1989. He told Czech Radio that the judge was likely involved in the fit-up.

“Mr. Fremr must have known that the StB was doing the case. The StB took over the case a month after it was opened, right after Alexandr Eret was arrested and falsely mixed up in it.”

The jurist also gave a suspended sentence to Eret’s mother for “endangering moral education”.

Jan Kysela | Photo: Jana Přinosilová,  Czech Radio

For his part Mr. Fremr says he has been shocked by the revelations – and argues that, like the Eret family, he too was a victim of the communist-era secret police.

His position is supported by top constitutional law expert Jan Kysela. He is an advisor to President Pavel and says he was unaware of the 1988 case when the jurist’s name was being considered.

“It almost seems to me that Mr. Fremr is if anything a victim of the State Security’s manipulation, rather than a ‘capital C culprit’ or ‘capital A accomplice’… His reputation is undoubtedly damaged. His career is nearing an end and without question he imagined leaving the post of deputy head of the Supreme Court for a position on the legal Mt. Olympus.”

Tomáš Němeček | Photo: Věra Luptáková,  Czech Radio

Lawyer and ex-journalist Tomáš Němeček says he had been in favour of Mr. Fremr’s candidacy, citing key verdicts he handed down and his international work. But, he told Czech Radio, the revelations changed his outlook.

“Robert Fremr has proven to be very loyal to the pre-1989 regime. I believe his growth into a democrat is authentic. I don’t believe there is any doubt that he has internalized the values of the democratic rule of law. But if by chance a situation arose in which the foundations of the rule of law came under threat, as we’ve seen elsewhere in Central Europe, I doubt he would be as firm as the first, or current, generation of judges.”