European far-right meeting draws protests in Prague
European Far-Right Leaders, Meeting to Condemn the E.U., Are Greeted With Boos - Marine Le Pen was at a conference of the Europe of Nations and Freedom outside Prague that drew protesters who shouted “Shame” and denounced populism and xenophobia. https://t.co/IGtvK3hDoh— Richard Mattis (@richmattis) December 19, 2017
Police in the Czech Republic generally protect both peaceful protesters and counter-demonstrators, reflecting the strong legal protections for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly which are in place.
On 15th and 16th December 2017, several hundred predominantly left-wing activists protested against a meeting of representatives of European anti-immigration parties in the Czech capital, Prague. Police took heightened security measures during the meeting which included prominent far-right leaders such as Marine Le Pen and Gert Wilders. The meeting was hosted by the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party (SPD) which promotes an anti-immigration agenda and won almost 11 percent in the Czech Republic's recent elections.
As Czech news outlet Romea.cz reported, the SPD leader Tomio Okamura apparently published false information on his Facebook profile, alleging that one of the participants at the above-mentioned meeting was assaulted by some of the protesters. Protest organisers, however, objected to the allegations. Video footage of the protests by Internet television station DVTV did not document any such alleged assaults.
Ondřej Mirovský, co-chair of the Green Party, objected to Czech taxpayers having to cover the costs of protecting the far-right meeting participants, stating that:
"I reject the idea that the taxpayers have to cover the costs of the comfort and safety of people who deny the Holocaust, who reject human solidarity, and who glorify ultra-nationalism. The organizer of this event, Tomio Okamura, should bear the cost".
As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, recent developments are posing a threat to the traditionally enabling and protective environment for media in the Czech Republic. Media experts believe that much like everywhere else in the region, independent journalism is under pressure in the Czech Republic, as leading politicians portray critical media as enemies of the national interest and as powerful local business people buy up independent media outlets.
As Vaclav Štětka, a media sociologist at Charles University and Loughborough University, told the Czech Republic's public radio broadcaster Český rozhlas, opinions that were previously on the edge of public discourse are moving closer and closer to the centre. Speeches and opinions that were previously considered unacceptable, xenophobic, hateful or racist and that were previously rejected by the public now fill the mainstream media and social networks. Lucie Rybova, Executive Director of the Czech Helsinki Committee, also finds the rise in xenophobic statements or racially offensive rhetoric "alarming".
Criminal prosecution of hate speech is a controversial issue among human right defenders in the Czech Republic. As previously reported, Czech law includes potential prison terms for people convicted of denying the Holocaust. Hate speech based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other group affiliation can be a criminal offense. In November 2017, activist Jan Cemper filed a complaint after Jaroslav Staník, the secretary for the SDP, allegedly declared that "Jews, homosexuals and gypsies should be gassed". The case is currently under investigation.
In addition, anti-Roma sentiments are not exceptional among leading Czech politicians. Czech President Miloš Zeman recently told the Barrandov cable television that 90 percent of the people who refuse jobs offered to them even though they are absolutely healthy are probably Romani.
New administration challenged by civil society
As the Czech Republic's new Prime Minister Andrej Babiš struggles to form a new government, he has come under criticism from civil society groups. Several NGOs have called on Babiš, who was sworn in on 6th December 2017, not to scrap the position of Human Rights Minister, who would be responsible for human rights and minorities in the new cabinet. They fear that abolishing this role would complicate enforcement of equal opportunities and the fight against discrimination in the Czech Republic.
The Czech Helsinki Committee wrote an open letter to Babiš in which it outlined the important role of the new government in "protecting and fulfilling the human rights and civic freedoms of all vulnerable groups". The letter signed by the organisation's chair, Táňa Fischerová, stated that:
"Along with other civic initiatives, we are disturbed to learn that the position of Human Rights Minister is not to be preserved in the new Government even though this is a significant, extensive agenda that requires appropriate financial, institutional and staff security if it is to be executed as more than a formality....We are offering you and the other parties, as well as any possible future minister entrusted with this agenda, our cooperation in formulating the priorities in this area and the steps for their fulfillment. The government would be continuing an essential, democratic, liberal tradition of collaboration between the human rights sector and the government's agenda if it were to undertake such an arrangement".
(Translated from Czech by independent human rights activist Gwendolyn Albert)