Citizens call for PM’s resignation in anti-government protests; press freedom in decline

Peaceful Assembly

Thousands take to streets in anti-government protests

On 16th November 2019, over 200,000 people took to the streets of Prague protesting against the current government. The protest was staged a day before the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, which triggered the series of peaceful mass protests that eventually led to the fall of communism. The anti-government protests were organised by Million Moments for Democracy. No police aggression has been reported.

As previously reported by the Monitor activist group Million Moments for Democracy, has been organising a number of mass events urging Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who is under criminal investigation, to resign. In early January 2020, the movement’s leader announced a new concept for the organisation called Million Moments 3.0. The initiative aims to encourage traditional political parties to stand up against the government and to re-establish the connection they lost with the people.

In a separate development, in December 2019 chief public prosecutor Pavel Zeman decided to reopen a case filed by Czech police in April 2019 against Babiš who is alleged to have illegally obtained two million Euros worth of EU subsidies. Following this announcement, over 50,000 people took to the streets calling for the PMs resignation.

Climate protesters block traffic

On 12th October 2019 during a protest organised by Extinction Rebellion about 100 protestors lay down on the pedestrian crossing at the National Museum. However, the group has not been welcomed by politicians in the country. For instance, former Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Mirek Topolánek tweeted: “I request that the Extinction Rebellion be included in the list of potential terrorist organisations.” 

The protests remained peaceful even though police removed protesters and checked their identification.

Expression

On 23th September 2019, HlidaciPes.org (“Watchdog” in Czech) published an article criticising an interview with Prime Minister Andrej Babiš by a radio host on Radio Czech as being too friendly. In reaction to this, the radio show portrayed the journalists working for the outlet as traitors to the nation and mouthpieces for George Soros.

Robert Břešťan, editor-in-chief of HlidaciPes.org told the International Press Institute in an interview that the story against them “was disseminated through a myriad of propaganda sites, the journalist who authored our article received several abusive messages on Facebook, including death threats against him, his family and his wife.” The propaganda sites call HlidaciPes.org “fake news” to discredit their message.

In addition, a fact finding report was released in October 2019 by the European Federation of Journalists, Syndicate of Journalists of Czech Republic, European Broadcasting Union, Nordic Association of News Publishers and the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom. The report finds that in five years the Czech Republic has dropped 27 places from 13 in 2014 to 40 in 2019 on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. The report highlighted that the Prime Minister’s close ties to the media outlets he previously owned is unacceptable for a democracy. It noted that journalists or media outlets that report negatively on the PM are publicly insulted and discredited. Other findings include that it is ‘too easy’ for parliament and the government, through the interlinking system of adopting annual reports and electing councils, to put pressure on the media. In addition, self-regulatory bodies are too fragmented to provide guidance on ethical standards.