27 March 2002

Alert

Czech publisher of "Mein Kampf" faces imprisonment


Incident details

Michal Zitko

publisher(s)

charged

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is an ARTICLE 19 press release:


27 March 2002


Czech Publisher of Mein Kampf Faces Imprisonment


ARTICLE 19, the Global Campaign for Free Expression, is concerned that Michal Zitko faces possible imprisonment for publishing a Czech translation of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf.


Michal Zitko was charged under Article 260 of the Czech Penal Code, after his Otakar II Publishing House released a Czech language edition of Mein Kampf in March 2000. Article 260 prohibits providing support to any movement which promotes national, racial, class or religious hatred. Zitko was originally given a three-year suspended prison sentence and fined two million Czech Koruny (US $56,500). Failure to pay the fine would result in a one-year prison term. The conviction and sentence were upheld on appeal on 25 February 2002. Zitko received a copy of the decision yesterday, at which point it becomes immediately effective, notwithstanding a possible further appeal. He is reportedly unable to pay the fine and hence faces the possibility of a year in prison.


International law requires States to prohibit statements which incite acts of discrimination, hostility or violence on the basis of race and other similar grounds, as an aspect of the right to equality. At the same time, the right to freedom of expression protects merely offensive or disturbing statements. Striking an appropriate balance between these two competing rights requires States to limit hate speech laws to statements which are likely to directly result in unlawful acts. Hate speech laws which are broader than this, or which are vague, may be abused for political reasons.


Mein Kampf, which contains Hitler's political and anti-semitic views, is easily available in democratic countries. It can be obtained, for example, in paperback through the online bookstore Amazon.com for US$20 or downloaded free over the Internet. The book is used as a valuable historical source by academics and others who research the history of Nazism, the Holocaust and the Second World War. Banning this book clearly cannot be justified according to the principles outlined above.


This is not the first time hate speech laws have been misused in the Czech Republic. In 1999, Ondrej Gina, a Czech Romani activist, was prosecuted by officials in his home town of Rokycany for using the word apartheid to describe the erection of a wall in Usti Nad Labem. The 15 foot high wall, which was erected as a 'noise and hygiene barrier' between a Roma block of flats and non-Roma residents, provoked international criticism and was eventually dismantled.


Toby Mendel, Head of ARTICLE 19's Law Programme, said:


"The Czech government has an obligation to protect expression which does not directly incite acts of racial discrimination, hostility or violence. Mein Kampf may be offensive and disturbing, but it does not constitute incitement. Furthermore, it is an important historical record."




Source

ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression
6-8 Amwell Street
London
EC1R 1UQ
United Kingdom
info (@) article19.org
Fax:+44 20 7278 7660
Czech Republic
 
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