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New Protection of the Republic law passes through

A controversial amendment to the Slovak Criminal Code that coalition deputies now say is in line with the country's Constitution and with EU norms squeezed through Parliament on December 17 and now awaits President Michal Kováč's approval or veto. Eight months ago, President Kováč vetoed the "Protection of the Republic" bill, as the measure is popularly known, stating that it contradicted "fundamental human freedoms" such as freedom of speech and assembly.
This time, coalition MPs said the law is designed to punish enemies of the state and not critics of the government. "The leading idea of the law is that just as an individual has the right to protect [himself or herself] against attacks, so the state has the right to protect itself from false blame," said Jozef Prokeš, vice-chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a deputy with the Slovak National Party (SNS), which has led the charge to adopt the legislation. "The law applies not to enemies of the government, but to enemies of the state."

A controversial amendment to the Slovak Criminal Code that coalition deputies now say is in line with the country's Constitution and with EU norms squeezed through Parliament on December 17 and now awaits President Michal Kováč's approval or veto.

Eight months ago, President Kováč vetoed the "Protection of the Republic" bill, as the measure is popularly known, stating that it contradicted "fundamental human freedoms" such as freedom of speech and assembly.

This time, coalition MPs said the law is designed to punish enemies of the state and not critics of the government. "The leading idea of the law is that just as an individual has the right to protect [himself or herself] against attacks, so the state has the right to protect itself from false blame," said Jozef Prokeš, vice-chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a deputy with the Slovak National Party (SNS), which has led the charge to adopt the legislation. "The law applies not to enemies of the government, but to enemies of the state."

Asked to explain how the law distinguishes between "government" and "state," Prokeš equivocated. "This is an approximate formulation," he said.

"If the law really does target enemies of the state and not the government, we would be very much more relaxed here in Strasbourg," said Simon Murphy, a British representative in the Joint European Parliament-Slovak Parliamentary Committee whose members discuss compatibility of Slovak legislation with European standards.

"Obviously, every state needs a law of this nature, but one which respects normal democratic conventions, especially those of the EU," Murphy added. "That's what we called for on our delegation's visit [to Slovakia] in November, and that's what we're calling for now."

Members of the opposition parties in Parliament did not buy the coalition's assertion that the new draft makes a distinction. "How can you recognize only one kind of enemy and not the other?" said Pavol Hrušovský, a Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) MP and a member of the Constitutional Law Committee. "The state is represented by its organs, and the government is one of those organs. The law cannot be applied on this basis."

Provision 98

Another change made to the legislation revolves around what many regard as the heart of the bill - Provision 98 - which states that "any public official shall be punishable by six months to three years imprisonment" for "disseminating false information damaging to the interests of the Republic." Previously the provision called for "a citizen of the Slovak Republic, or a person without citizenship but with permanent residence status" to be punished for such activities by serving two years in prison or paying a financial penalty. During the floor debate, Peter Brňák, a HZDS MP, proposed that the clause be struck from the bill, but not enough MPs showed up to vote on the proposal or for the final vote on the amendment itself.

One deputy in the chamber was Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, who though present, did not address his peers or speak to reporters. Coalition officials would not say why Mečiar came.

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