Will President Klaus face high treason charges over controversial amnesty?

Václav Klaus (Foto: www.vlada.cz)

The wide-ranging amnesty declared in January by the outgoing Czech president, Václav Klaus, continues to cause controversy. On Thursday a public hearing on the subject was held at the Senate, where an unprecedented legal move has been considered – charging President Klaus with high treason.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
Leading Czech constitutional lawyers, judges, senators and other experts discussed the controversial amnesty in a hearing held by the Czech Senate on Thursday. Its second article, which halted the prosecution of cases running for more than eight years, has provoked a public outcry – with critics saying it lets some people suspected of massive corruption off the hook. Opposition Senator Miroslav Antl outlines why the amnesty was discussed at Thursday’s hearing.

“We want to hear what to do to make sure such a shameful amnesty could not be declared ever again. Whether we should file charges against the president with the Constitutional Court, or whether we should curb the president’s powers by a constitutional amendment.”

The organizers invited President Václav Klaus to the debate but the outgoing head of state refused – despite his comments from just the day before.

Václav Klaus,  photo: archive of the Czech Government
“I don’t want to make any new, strong statements about the amnesty. I’m ready to justify its rationality and appropriateness at any forum, anytime and anywhere. In spite of the incredible backlash in the media, I would declare the amnesty again in the same way.”

In an unprecedented move, a group of 18 senators have also put forward a proposal to press charges of high treason against the president; if it wins the support of nine more members of the Senate, it will be admitted for debate on floor. But a leading constitutional expert, Jan Kysela, considers the proposal unrealistic.

“I think the decision itself leaves no room to believe that high treason could in fact have been committed. Another matter would be if it turned out that the amnesty was corrupt or that it served the interests of an alien power, or that its motivation was criminal.

“But I think we cannot presume high treason was committed just on the basis of the decision itself. And I’m afraid we know very little about the motivation behind the amnesty.”

One of those who backed the motion is former Constitutional Court judge, Eliška Wagnerová. Today a senator, she says that even if the charges are rejected by the top court, they could help clarify the president’s powers in future.

Eliška Wagnerová,  Miroslav Antl,  photo: CTK
“I expect the Constitutional Court to issue an opinion on the individual charges, and that it will set limits for any future president to exercise their authority. That would be a great asset for the citizens of this country and their safety.”

President Václav Klaus never convincingly justified the scope of the amnesty which severely damaged his public support at the end of his tenure. A survey conducted shortly after he announced the amnesty showed that a mere 26 percent of Czechs trusted the president, the lowest number since he assumed the top post 10 years ago.