Trial of radical socialist gets underway in Czech Republic

26-08-2003

An unprecedented trial has just begun here in the Czech Republic, with the young editor of a far-left magazine in the dock. Having called for socialist revolution in the magazine Pochoden, or Torch, 24-year-old David Pecha stands accused of "spreading intolerance and hatred leading to the suppression of basic rights and freedoms". The trial has led to a debate on free speech, with some saying Mr Pecha's case should never have come to trial.

David Pecha, photo: CTKDavid Pecha, photo: CTK Calls for revolution and punishment - that is what David Pecha has promised on the pages of Pochoden - his magazine promoting a return to social revolution and new class upheaval. Pecha goes on trial this Tuesday for writing statements such as "Capitalists, who destroyed Czechoslovakia will be liquidated and... punished", all too familiar rhetoric now for those who lived under the former regime in the 1950s. Still, some analysts say, the case is far from clear-cut. Political analyst Jiri Pehe:

"Well, I think there are several levels on which this case should be judged. In general we can argue about a case that involves 'freedom of speech'. We know that there are some commentators and analysts in the Czech Republic who say this case should have never been brought to trial simply because it involves freedom of speech and it is not very appropriate to try someone like that."

On the other hand, a law passed in 1993 on the criminality of the former regime sets the framework for David Pecha's trial:

"As long as this law is in the books then clearly David Pecha is someone who should face trial, simply because he is propagating a system that is deemed criminal."

Miloslav Ransdorf, a deputy head for the Communist Party, however, disagrees. He rejects the trial of the young radical as an intrusion on the freedom of expression, calling it something of a farce.

"I can say that it is a ridiculous case. Ridiculous in the sense that in the Czech Republic, in our constitution, there is freedom of expression, freedom of opinion. So, this young man can have very extreme ideas and convictions, but I assume that it can not be supposed that a normal court would find this behaviour contradicting law."

But, did the Communist Party deputy head feel David Pecha's incendiary statements went too far? Though his party is not affiliated with Mr Pecha's magazine, Mr Ransdorf was understanding - even apologetic.

"I know that his ideas are sometimes conflicting with our legal framework - in verbal expressions. But, in practice we can not find anything. It is also symbolic that Mr Pecha regularly attacks the Communist Party: he speaks about us as traitors. It is a matter of time, to wait for his further development."

The idea that David Pecha's radical stance is little more than an excess of youth will probably be difficult to swallow for many. Certainly, one doesn't call for the liquidation of others without expecting some kind of response, in Mr Pecha's case his day in court, and the threat of several years in prison if he is found guilty. Just how serious his statements have been, whether they cross an invisible line between freedom of speech and propagating hatred and suppression of others, will ultimately be decided by those in the legal system and nobody else. But, as analyst Jiri Pehe suggested, the trial will be complicated, the decision far from easy.

26-08-2003