Senator accused of defamation retains political immunity

Liana Janáčková, photo: CTK

The Czech Senate’s immunity committee decided on Tuesday not to hand independent Senator Liana Janáčková over for prosecution. Mrs Janáčková stands accused of defamation, after saying that the country’s Roma population should, among other things, be ‘blown up’. The decision has provoked outcry amongst Romany rights groups, who say that the move gives a green light to public displays of racism.

Liana Janáčková,  photo: CTK
Mrs Janáčková made the headlines last summer when a secret recording of her making offensive remarks about the country’s Roma minority was leaked. Addressing constituents in Marianské Hory, northern Moravia, Mrs Janáčková said that she thought local Roma should be rounded up and kept behind an electric fence, and blown up with dynamite.

Mrs Janáčková has since apologized for the remarks, but the Czech police want to investigate her on charges of defamation. On Tuesday, the Senate’s immunity committee chose not to hand her over. The move has dismayed Romany rights activists. Kumar Vishwanatan is a community worker in Mrs Janáčková’s constituency:

“On a general level, I think it is wrong for politicians and public figures to conjure up such frightening images as electric fences and dynamite and so on. I think this is unacceptable. We are still living in the shadow of the Romany Holocaust. And secondly, there is a section of the general public who will now see this as a green light to talk this way about the Roma. So I think this should be condemned.”

The Senate’s immunity committee decided by seven votes to two that Mrs Janáčková should not be stripped of her immunity – in a move which has received criticism from many different quarters. Here’s political analyst Ivan Gabal:

“I think it casts the Czech Senate’s immunity committee in a bad light. I think it is a political decision. The true situation is that she expressed herself in a way which a court should decide whether to punish or not. And I think no politician should be immune from facing trial for comments they have made about people of different ethnic backgrounds.”

But do you think what she did really constitutes a punishable offence? Because she has apologised for these comments which she called ‘silly’ and ‘unfortunate’? So isn’t this just her opponents trying to gain some political mileage out of her embarrassment?

Ivan Gabal
“As I already said, this has nothing to do with her apology. This is something that should be decided by a court. It was not a political act that she committed, so it should not be a question of a politician’s right to immunity. It was simply an expression of common public racism, and it is up to a court to decide whether she committed a recognized crime or not. If she was really being honest in her apology, she would be ready to accept the decision of a court on the matter, which she is not. She is hiding behind her political immunity.”

The committee’s recommendation is not final – the Czech Senate still has to vote on whether Mrs Janáčková should be stripped of her immunity or not. Given the controversy that this recommendation has sparked, it could be a tough decision for senators.