Political interference suspected after broadcaster's dismissal

Expression

In October 2018, the airing of a 35-second excerpt from The Line of Beauty, a Man Booker prize-winning novel of Alan Hollinghurst, caused a row after it was condemned as “pornographic”. Liberal commentators believed the controversy over the transmission was being whipped up by conservatives as part of a campaign to force out critical voices from public media outlets. A few weeks later, Petr Fischer, the head of Radio Vltava, the public broadcaster's cultural channel on which the exerpt had been aired, was removed from his job by the Director of Czech Radio. Some commentators are concerned about the political motivations behind his removal, particularly considering that media ownership in the Czech republic is already concentrated in the hands of wealthy government-friendly individuals.

According to the The Guardian newspaper, Jakub Jirsa, a philosophy lecturer at Prague’s Charles University compared the current climate to the state repression that followed the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 to crush the liberal Prague spring, a process known as “normalisation”. Jirsa said:

“A new era of normalisation is coming. It will be an era where things will be in limbo and everything will be bland and colourless. There will be no difference between public and state control.”

On 14th December, German media reported that the Czech senate were interested in investigating the reasons behind Fischer's dismissal from Radio Vltava. The same report also indicated that two people who had previously worked for state security services had been asked to investigate Fischer's work.

Association

In September 2018, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) reported that while the sustainability of the Czech NGO sector remained stable in 2017, public distrust in NGOs has been growing as some in the political elite portray the sector as unreliable and incompetent. For example, during the parliamentary election campaign in late 2017 NGOs were accused of not being transparent and acting against the interests of the country. The situation did not get much better after the elections, as the new prime minister, Andrej Babiš questioned the amount of public funding going to the sector. Criticism of civil society also surfaced during the presidential election campaign in January 2018.

Speaking on the occasion of Human Rights Day on 10th December 2018, Human Rights Commissioner Martina Štěpánková told the Czech News Agency that recent attacks on NGOs are very problematic. She said that the Czech society seems to believe that they already have their human rights and there is nothing left to do when it comes those rights. Štěpánková believes however that this is not the case, and that active citizenry and human rights organisations are needed to ensure the protection of human rights. The Commissioner told news outlet Romea.cz:

"What I perceive from my perspective as very problematic and wrong is the critique of non-governmental organizations, especially of those that are involved in actively advocating for human rights, whether that be in the area of environmental protections, gender, or migrant protections. Those organizations also have their own place and their role to play."

Peaceful Assembly

On 23rd November 2018 thousands protested in Prague after the government of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš survived a vote of no-confidence triggered by a fraud investigation. Protests against Babiš continued during the second half of November. It is alleged that the Prime Minister hid the ownership of one of his companies. His children were listed as the owners of the company which then received a €2 million grant, which it should not have qualified for. The protests started when the media reported allegations that Babiš has tried to obstruct the investigation into the alleged wrongdoing by moving his son out of the country under duress.