7 September 2001


IPI concerned over authorities' decision to prosecute former editor

Incident details

David Pecha



(IPI/IFEX) - The following is an IPI letter to Minister of Justice Jaroslav Bures:

JUDR. Jaroslav Bures

Minister of Justice

The Ministry of Justice

Vysehradska 16

128 10 Prague

The Czech Republic

Fax: 00420 2 249 15 140

Vienna, 7 September 2001

Your Excellency,

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, leading journalists and media executives, is deeply concerned by the decision of the authorities to prosecute a former editor for inciting a return to communism.

According to the information before IPI, on 4 September, Jaroslav Horak, the state prosecutor in the eastern Czech Republic town of Sumperk, said that David Pecha, a former editor with the left-leaning magazine Pochodon, was to be indicted for a number of public statements and articles in which he called for a socialist revolution. The state prosecutor alleges that Pecha advocated the use of violence in order to achieve his aims.

In the indictment, the state accuses Pecha of "... publishing ... statements including ideas about the installation of a socialist or communist regime in the Czech Republic by undemocratic means following the theory of Marxism-Leninism". Furthermore, the indictment quotes Pecha, in one of his Pochodon articles, as saying, "Until the ruling class of 'Private owners' ... is overthrown in a revolution, and until this state is swept away, destroyed and replaced by a state of the workers, simply no democracy or social justice is possible". In another magazine edition, Pecha wrote that "[the people] will destroy damned imperialism and eradicate all its oppressors, the wealthy and war murderers".

The charges are being made under a section of the Penal Code which makes it an offence to spread "movements leading to suppression of citizen's rights and freedoms". This is the first time that a charge has been made out under this section and, if successful, Pecha faces a maximum of eight years' imprisonment, However, the state prosecutor has made it clear he will only be seeking a suspended sentence.

Although IPI does not condone the comments and articles of Pecha, it sincerely believes that the evidence does not warrant his indictment. Freedom of speech is a fundamental element of democracy and is a right afforded to all members of society, irrespective of their political persuasion. Indeed, IPI believes that Pecha's comments, rather than being seen as harmful, should be seen as part of an on-going dialogue in the Czech Republic - a dialogue that seeks to illuminate disparate views and stimulate debate. Therefore, discussion, in whatever form, is essential to the well-being of a state.

Concerning the prosecutor's statement that Pecha is being indicted for his call to violence rather than for his comments on communism; once again, IPI does not feel that these views would cause difficulties in a society that upholds freedom of expression. The essential question concerns the terminology and the intent behind its usage. In this present case, IPI would suggest that it is very much in keeping with the ideology expressed and not necessarily a declaration of intent.

With regard to the need for security and the protection of rights, IPI accepts that a government should be mindful of these factors but would encourage the Czech Republic to weigh these carefully against the desire for a free and open society. Article 17 (2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which is an integral component of the Constitution of the Czech Republic, states, "Everybody has the right to express freely his or her opinion by word, in writing". Although, this is "limited in law ... for protecting rights and freedoms of others, [and] the security of the State", IPI would remind Your Excellency that, under international law, the limitation must be strictly proportional to the specific interest that is being pursued and must not unduly burden the right that is being excepted.

Aside from the question of international standards in this area, IPI is also concerned by the comment of the state prosecutor that he would only seek a suspended sentence. Bearing in mind the independence of the judiciary, it is IPI's understanding that this may only be viewed as a recommendation by the state prosecutor and would not be binding on the judiciary. Therefore, Pecha might still face a possible jail sentence. Furthermore, irrespective of whether Pecha received a suspended sentence or not, he would be unfairly stigmatised by a criminal record for his comments and articles.

In relation to the section under which the indictment has been made out, IPI notes that this includes the phrase "suppression of citizen's rights and freedoms". IPI strongly believes that it is Pecha's rights and freedoms that are being suppressed in this present case and that any attempt to try him would have far-reaching consequences for freedom of expression and freedom of speech in the Czech Republic.

With this in mind, IPI invites Your Excellency to reconsider the case against Pecha and to halt the criminal proceedings against him. By doing so you will be upholding democracy and affirming freedom of expression in the Czech Republic.

We thank you for your attention.

Johann P. Fritz


Recommended Action

Similar appeals can be sent to:

JUDR. Jaroslav Bures

Minister of Justice

The Ministry of Justice

Vysehradska 16

128 10 Prague, The Czech Republic

Fax: +420 2 249 15 140

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.


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