Czech President makes thinly-veiled threat to journalists

Expression

Freedom of expression enjoys adequate protection in the Czech Republic, both in law and in practice, though there are some limitations on the right. Czech law, for example, 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.

The media operate relatively freely. There is a strong tradition of investigative journalism and editorial independence. Attacks against media workers are rare. Most Czech politicians have rejected the recent proposal from the head of the Party of Freedom and Direct Democracy, Tomio Okamura, that is pushing for the country’s public broadcasters – Czech Radio and Czech Television – to be nationalised. Many in politics seem to believe that such a measure could undermine the independence of the public broadcasters.

Despite an enabling and protective environment for media, there have been some concerning developments of late. On 20th October 2017,  President Milos Zeman insulted reporters by showing off a replica of an AK-47 during a press conference with the inscription “for journalists”. It was not the first time Zeman expressed unfavourable views towards the media. He previously referred to journalists as “manure” and “hyenas”, and even remarked to Russian President Vladimir Putin that some journalists need to be “liquidated”.

On 31st October, Zeman entrusted Andrej Babis, leader of the election-winning ANO party, with negotiations to form a new government. Babis is a billionaire who was charged in September with fraud in a case involving a two-million EUR EU subsidy and who owns, among others, two of the country’s leading newspapers and a radio station. Critics are concerned that Babis’s control over the media could lead to conflicts of interest. According to some reports, evidence suggests that Babis has already tried to influence the timing and content of discussions held on the media outlets he owns. Babis is not the only billionaire who recently developed an interest in the media business. Critics fear that the recent "oligarchisation" of the press will lead to increased self-censorship and will undermine the ability of journalists to investigate cases of corruption and suspicious business practices.

Peaceful Assembly

The right to peaceful assembly is protected under the Czech Republic's Charter of Fundamental Rights and Basic Freedoms and is generally in compliance with international standards and best practices. The government recognises the importance of this right. On 7th June 2017, Czech Republic participated in a Clustered Interactive Dialogue with newly-appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The Czech representatives emphasised the importance of civil society and civic participation in enabling such fundamental rights as peaceful assembly.

The right to peaceful assembly is also well-protected in practice. There were only a few instances in recent years when police tried to prevent a protest from happening, or were accused of failing to protect peaceful protesters from attacks by counter demonstrators.

The annual Prague Pride Parade took place for the fifth time this year on 12th August with an estimated 35,000 participants. No violent incidents were reported; however, there was a small counter-demonstration by religious conservatives and neo-Nazis. Contained behind a police cordon, the counter demonstrators shouted anti-gay slurs and insults at Pride Parade participants. Marriage equality was a major theme of the Parade Week too. While for the time being same-sex marriage is not legally recognised in the Czech Republic, prominent civil society organisations hope that they will be able to convince the legislators during the next parliamentary period that this situation must change.

Association

Freedom of association is well-respected in the Czech Republic and it is relatively easy to register civil society organisations. According to the most recent Freedom House report, however, the lack of funding, delays in implementing EU-funded programmes and the declining number of activities outsourced by the state pose serious challenges for civil society and impacts organisations' sustainability.

While Czech trade unions and professional associations are considered to be weak, they enjoy adequate freedom to operate and organise. Workers generally have the right to strike, though essential public employees do not fully enjoy this right. The right to strike is acknowledged and protected in practice. On 18th October 2017, around 7,000 Czech general practitioners, pediatricians and outpatient specialists went on a one-day strike over the Ministry of Health's refusal to increase funding for doctors and medical staff in the coming year.. According to media reports, around 400 pharmacies closed their doors for half an hour in solidarity with the medical professionals. No disruption of the strike was reported.