Prague Anti-Islam Rally Violated Free Speech Laws

Participants of an anti-Islam rally in Prague last month carried mock gallows and used hate speech, but police only intervened to arrest activists who attempted to block the demonstration route.

Three activists were arrested last month at a rally in Prague against Islam and immigration, during which they attempted to block the marching route of the participants.

Despite the obvious hate speech and threatening posters of the participants — some even held mock gallows — the police only intervened after activists attempted to peacefully block the route of the marchers.

Three activists were detained for their passive resistance, and a fourth man was arrested for allegedly assaulting police officers as they were arresting the other activists.

Officials react

According to the Ministry of the Interior, however, the hate speech and incitement to hatred used by the demonstrators violated Czech law and should have been given attention by the police.

"Today it is the gallows, tomorrow it will be eggs, then stones and bricks, and we could even live to see people shoot each other at such events," said Milan Chovanec, the country’s interior minister, who also requested a formal statement from the police regarding their decision not to intervene against the obvious hate speech.

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka was also quick to condemn the hate speech. "It is unacceptable for anyone to use their right of free speech to spread hatred and threaten to kill opponents of their opinion. This is not why we have freedoms of expression and assembly.”

The prime minister called on both the police and the prosecutor’s office to do their part to ensure everyone complies with the law during such rallies, and also reiterated that hate speech is never to be tolerated.

New prop

Demonstrations such as the one last month are supposed to be supervised by both the police and municipal authorities. The latter do have the power to disband marches or demonstrations, just like the police, and are supposed to watch for and report potential rights violations.

As part of their investigation of the demonstrators, the police ordered a full analysis of the mock gallows and determined that this was a new device of far-right groups to spread fear.

The interior minister, commenting on the investigation, stressed that the current police inquiry should make a difference during future events—that the situation should not be repeated.