Czech papers protest press curbs as Obama arrives

5th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

The law, which took effect April 1 after being approved by lawmakers, prohibits the publication of information stored in police phone recordings and bans media from naming the victims of crimes.

Prague -- Czech dailies on Saturday published an open letter to US President Barack Obama and European Union leaders, protesting a recently introduced law they say restricts press freedoms.

"Welcome to a country that has introduced unprecedented punishments... for the publication of true information," the dailies wrote on the day Obama will arrive in Prague to meet 27 EU leaders at Sunday's summit.

The law, which took effect April 1 after being approved by lawmakers, prohibits the publication of information stored in police phone recordings and bans media from naming the victims of crimes.

Sentences for breaking the legislation dubbed "muzzle law" run to five years behind bars and fines of up to five million koruna (175,000 euros or 225,000 dollars).

"It is sad that such a strong restriction of the freedom of speech and right to information took effect in a year when central Europe celebrates 20 years of its return to democracy," the letter reads.

"We want to highlight this fact and trigger a discussion on the necessity of freedom of speech, whose importance exceeds national borders and which is one of the core values of the western civilisation," the dailies said.

Publishers and editors have sought exemptions from the law, citing a 2004 football match-fixing scandal which resulted in prosecutions after newspapers obtained proof using police telephone recordings that referees had been bribed.

"We think the restriction... is so serious that it should not be taken lightly the way it has been taken by Czech politicians," editor-in-chief of the DNES daily, Robert Casensky, wrote on Saturday.

AFP/Expatica

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