Proposal to make defamation of president criminal offense stirs memories of communist repression
A group of Czech lawmakers have proposed an amendment to the criminal code that would make defamation of the president a criminal offense punishable by up to a year in jail. Coming on the eve of the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, the move has elicited widespread criticism, with the opposition calling it a throwback to the repressive communist years.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka of the Social Democrats says the bill is not a good idea.
Although such a defamation law was in place in the years of the First Republic, the country’s brief period of democracy preceding 40 years of communist rule, and throughout the communist years, most MPs would consider its reintroduction a serious setback. TOP 09 head Miroslav Kalousek:
“It would be quite unacceptable – a return to the years of normalization and the untouchable communist top brass.”
Justice Minister Robert Pelikán argues that when the defamation law was scrapped in 1994 it was scrapped on the grounds that the president would be protected similarly as any other citizen by the law on slander. Political analyst Jiří Pehe also argues that the president does not need extra protection.
“The president is now directly elected by the people so he is part of the political process; he is not above politics as used to be the case, to some extent, with presidents elected by Parliament. And it would be really unfair for the president to be able to say whatever he thinks - and we know that our current president very often says very offensive things – and for the public not to be able to say what they think about the president, sometimes using perhaps slightly rougher language.”