Political maneuverings and uncertainties spark protests across the country

Peaceful Assembly

After months of pressure from outgoing Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, in April the director of the General Inspectorate of Security Corps (GIBS), Michal Murin, finally resigned from his position. GIBS is a government agency tasked with investigating abuses committed by members of the Czech police, including abuses related to the freedom of peaceful assembly. The resignation comes amid continuing political uncertainty. The Czech Republic has been without a government for six months, while the centrist ANO Party of Babiš continues talks to form a new coalition government.

Denisa Kramářová, a lawyer at the Czech NGO League of Human Rights, explained to the CIVICUS Monitor that her organisation had called on former Prime Minister Babiš to dismiss Murin,  because under his leadership, GIBS inspections had been ineffective; police had no trust in its work; and it had also come under criticism from the Constitutional Court. 

Kramářová told the CIVICUS Monitor that the election of a communist-era riot squad officer, Zdeněk Ondráček, who participated in beating up pro-democracy protesters in 1989, as head the standing parliamentary commission overseeing the GIBS had made things even worse. His election brought thousands of demonstrators onto the streets across the country in March 2018 chanting "communists are murderers" and "we have had enough".

Ondráček stepped down following the demonstrations and the Chamber of Deputies then elected Jiří Mašek from the ANO Party to head the commission.

The League of Human Rights believes that the right solution to the situation is “to completely abolish the GIBS, transfer its competences to other law enforcement authorities, and pass the area of effective police violence investigation to the prosecution”.  A discussion should then take place over “whether we need a new body to replace GIBS, how it should look and how to learn from past mistakes” as suggested by Zuzana Candigliota, a lawyer with the League of Human Rights, in a press release.

In separate developments, on 15th March thousands of high-school students from over 300 schools across the country joined a "half-hour warning strike". On that day in Prague, Brno, Ostrava, Pilsen, and České Budějovice, young people voiced their concerns over political developments in the country and the threats they pose to constitutional values and a free, independent media.

Expression

President Zeman attacks the media - again

On 8th March, during his inaugural speech for a second term, Czech President Miloš Zeman once again disparaged the media. The self-proclaimed "Czech Donald Trump" condemned the media as an "economic mafia" and for its attempts to “manipulate the public”. He also asserted that the country’s public service broadcaster, Czech Television, would "become more balanced" indicating potential political interference in the broadcaster's content. In a detailed analysis, journalist Michal Musil claimed that:

"A political takeover is not a done deal, but Czech public media appear to be in trouble. And though the main target has been Czech Television, Czech Radio is not safe either".