Election of new Czech ombudsman mired in controversy

16-01-2020

The search for the Czech Republic’s next ombudsman continues to be marred by controversy. After withdrawing his first nomination, the president announced a new candidate for the post, former deputy ombudsman Stanislav Křeček. However, while in that position the octogenarian had serious disagreements with the current public defender of citizens’ rights.

Stanislav Křeček, photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech RadioStanislav Křeček, photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio President Miloš Zeman’s previous choice for the post of Czech ombudsman, the government commissioner for human rights and a former justice minister Helena Válková, withdrew her nomination last week.

This followed allegations she co-authored an article with the infamous communist state prosecutor Josef Urválek, who was responsible for securing the death sentences of Milada Horáková and others in 1950s show trials.

Just a few days later, the president announced that he would nominate Stanislav Křeček, a former MP for the Social Democrats and long-term head of the country’s landlords’ association, for the post.

Anna Šabatová, the outgoing Czech ombudswoman and a leading dissident under communism, whose time in office ends next month, says she doesn’t consider the candidacy of 81-year-old Křeček to be a good choice. The two of them repeatedly clashed about various issues while working together.

Šabatová says the other two candidates, nominated by the Senate, the attorney Jan Matys and Vít Alexander Schorm, who currently represents the Czech government before the European Court of Human Rights, are equally suitable for the job.

“Both of them are possible contenders for the post. I don’t have any information about their being associated with any political party or that there would be anything in their life that would disqualify them from performing this job. They differ in age and they have had different careers, but I don’t want to talk about my preferences.”

Stanislav Křeček, who has long had close ties with President Zeman, says he didn’t hesitate for long before accepting the nomination. When discussing his plans, he seemed to indicate he might take the office in a different direction:

Anna Šabatová, photo: Jan Bartoněk / Czech RadioAnna Šabatová, photo: Jan Bartoněk / Czech Radio “I have always respected Mrs Šabatová. She has led a remarkable life. However, I would take a different, more non-NGO approach. I would regard it more as a state office, whose duty is to re-examine decisions of other institutions. I wouldn’t bring in my own ideologies, for instance, about discrimination and so on. That doesn’t suit my approach.”

The Czech office of the public defender of citizens’ rights, which was established in 2000, has always enjoyed great public trust.

The country’s first ever ombudsman was former justice minister and Supreme Court president Otakar Motejl, who had a history of defending people’s rights under Communism.

After his death in 2010, Motejl was replaced in the post by former Constitutional Court judge Pavel Varvařovský. The current ombudswoman Anna Šabatová has held the post since 2014. The vote on the new Czech ombudsman will take place in the lower house on February 12 at the earliest.

16-01-2020