Czech government mulls new anti-terror law in wake of Madrid bombings

26-03-2004

Countries across the region have been reviewing their security procedures in the wake of the Madrid attacks, and some, which don't have specific anti-terrorism laws, are mulling the introduction of new legislation. Among them is the Czech Republic, which could see legal changes introduced within Months.

Memorial service in Madrid, photo: CTKMemorial service in Madrid, photo: CTK Among the world leaders attending this week's memorial service in Madrid was the Czech prime minister, Vladimir Spidla, who was accompanied to the Spanish capital by his foreign minister Cyril Svoboda. The Czech Republic has no anti-terrorism law on the statute books, but all that could be about to change, as Mr Svoboda told Radio Prague on the plane to Madrid.

"We need a new piece of legislation dealing with the special protection against terrorism. And the law is to authorise the state to take some decisions on some restrictions. Just for one reason - to protect the security of Czech citizens on the territory of the Czech Republic and also outside the Czech Republic."

The Czech Republic already has some laws, which could be used to prosecute terrorist-related activities. But Mr Svoboda says these simply don't go far enough to deal with the problem:

"The legal environment we have got is good, its well functioning, but not for such a dangerous phenomenon as terrorist attacks. So if there are some terrorist attacks we need to be more flexible in protecting Czech citizens."

Security measures in Prague, photo: CTKSecurity measures in Prague, photo: CTK Interior Minister Stanislav Gross told reporters his colleagues were already working on draft legislation, although he wouldn't give any details. But any new measures are likely to give the Czech intelligence services more powers. The Madrid bombs, for example, were detonated via mobile phone, and the deputy chairman of the parliamentary intelligence committee says he believes the secret services should have the authority to shut down all mobile phone networks and to have access to all phone operators' databases.

But such measures worry civil liberties groups as well as the opposition. They fear an anti-terrorism law would expand the powers of the intelligence services to a dangerous extent and threaten basic rights and freedoms. Among them is Karel Neuwirt, head of the Office for the Protection of Personal Data.

"The intelligence services always abuse a crisis situation to call for more and more power. This is bad news for Czech citizens. The intelligence services should simply use their already existing powers more efficiently."

And that debate over how much power to give the intelligence services has an extra dimension in the Czech Republic, a country which only relatively recently emerged from forty years of totalitarian rule. Finding a balance between effective intelligence gathering and protecting hard-won civil liberties will be a tough challenge.

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