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NEWSPAPER WRITER LEFT FACING TWO YEAR JAIL SENTENCE

Presidential libel case to go on

Libeling the president is still a punishable crime after a motion to change the Criminal Code failed by one vote.
The motion was a response to an ongoing case of Aleš Krátký, a political commentator with Nový Čas daily who is facing charges for an editorial he wrote six months ago critising President Rudolf Schuster. If found guilty he faces a two year prison sentence.
Peter Galbavý, Slovak Democratic Union Member of Parliament (MP) said paragraph 103 of the Criminal Code should be abolished because it was: "An outdated communist paragraph, produced by totalitarian regime which prosecuted people for having a different opinion."


Krátký is under fire for his work.
photo: TASR

Libeling the president is still a punishable crime after a motion to change the Criminal Code failed by one vote.

The motion was a response to an ongoing case of Aleš Krátký, a political commentator with Nový Čas daily who is facing charges for an editorial he wrote six months ago critising President Rudolf Schuster. If found guilty he faces a two year prison sentence.

Peter Galbavý, Slovak Democratic Union Member of Parliament (MP) said paragraph 103 of the Criminal Code should be abolished because it was: "An outdated communist paragraph, produced by totalitarian regime which prosecuted people for having a different opinion."

Of the 110 present MPs, 55 voted in favour of the abolition of the paragraph, four voted against, 45 abstained and six did not vote at all.

The President's Office filed the charges earlier this year after Krátký's commentary criticizing Schuster's May 25 state of the nation address was printed under the title "Chaos in the Head of State" the following day.

Krátký wrote that Schuster's speech "was from beginning to end a 'state of the soul' address from a puffed-up egomaniac who last experienced real life during his early childhood, and who now smiles at thunderstorms under the illusion he is being photographed".


Some media said Schuster tried to pressure MPs in their vote.
photo: Ľuboš Hrivňák

Although Ján Füle, head of the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists (SSN) said the editorial was written "in a rascal way." He added: "The problem of suing a journalist for expressing his opinion is ethical, rather than legal one. The president cannot win this battle, definitely not in the moral level of the dispute."

Similar laws have been abolished as unconstitutional in former communist countries such as the Czech Republic and Hungary. State officials can only file charges for slander or libel in civil court proceedings under the same laws which protect all state citizens.

Krátký told The Slovak Spectator on November 13 that the vote showed how much the countries top officials "enjoyed this communist law; in the presidential palace as well as in parliament."

He said after the editorial was published he received an offer to "apologize to president and that they would then drop the charges".

But he maintained: "I can't do that. I still agree with what I wrote and ever since that the president lives up to its content more and more."

Schuster, who is currently on a state visit to Russia and Kazakhstan, has not yet commented on the vote. Dana Škridlová from the president's media department said: "Mr Schuster was too busy on Friday [November 9] preparing for his trip and will probably comment on the matter after he returns from his journey November 15".


Ján Füle, head of the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists.
photo: TASR

The day before the vote Galbavý was hopeful that he had enough support among MPs to abolish the paragraph. However the failure to abolish the paragraph has mystified him. "Yesterday MPs promised to support it. Within a few hours, however, those who stood by me suddenly changed their minds," he said.

Shortly after the vote several Slovak media such as radio Twist brought reports about alleged lobbying with political party caucuses not to support Galbavý's initiative by Schuster himself.

But the rumours have not been officially confirmed.

Party of Civil Reconciliation, which Schuster founded and led before he became the president, and the 21 MPs strong Democratic Left Party (SDĽ) have been blamed for not supporting the vote.

Only one SDĽ MP supported the initiative while the others abstained. SDĽ member and Agriculture Minister Pavol Koncoš said November 11 in the Slovak public TV political discussion show Five to Twelve that similar changes in the criminal code "have to be discussed carefully".

He also said that the president, as one of the three top state functionaries, including prime minister and speaker of parliament "deserves greater respect and protection." But he added: "I suppose that the SDĽ will support abolishing the paragraph when a complex rewritten criminal code is discussed in parliament."

The rewritten code, which is due to be discussed next year, should drop all paragraphs granting special protection to state officials.

Galbavý, however, will not give up and plans to turn to the Constitutional Court to rule on the constitutionality of the paragraph. "I believe the court will prove me right," he said.

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