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POLICE LIFT BAN AGAINST CZECH DEMONSTRATORS

Expulsion of flag burners revised

THE EXPULSION of two Czechs who burned small paper US flags during a public speech by American President George W Bush in Bratislava in late February likely violated the visitors' rights.

THE EXPULSION of two Czechs who burned small paper US flags during a public speech by American President George W Bush in Bratislava in late February likely violated the visitors' rights.

When deciding over an appeal brought forward by the young Czechs, the Border and Foreigners' Police Office determined that Slovak law did not support the expulsion. It also lifted a ban prohibiting the Czechs from entering Slovakia for 10 years.

In their appeal, the Czechs argued that they did not violate public security by burning the flags in Hviezdoslavovo square but only expressed their opinion on the policies of the United States. They maintain that they were exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Kristína Poláková, an attorney working for Citizen and Democracy (Občan a demokracia), the non-governmental organization representing the Czechs, firmly believes that her clients' rights were trampled.

She told The Slovak Spectator: "During the process of expulsion, the police violated the law regarding the stay of foreigners in Slovakia by immediately transporting them to the Czech and Slovak borders without giving them a chance to appeal the decision."

According to Poláková, the Czechs should have had 15 days to appeal the police action. Only upon the rejection of their appeal would the expulsion have become valid and the Czechs obliged to leave the country.

During President Bush's public speech, the Czechs burned small paper US flags that had been distributed by participants of the speech.

Based on witness reports, first they burned one flag and then, inspired by media attention, they burned a second one. Two policemen evaluated the demonstration as a violation of public order.

On March 1, the Czech Foreign Ministry responded that it respected Slovakia's decision to ban two Czech citizens from entering Slovakia for 10 years.

Police spokesman Martin Kroch said that the police in no way tried to prevent the Czech citizens from freely expressing their opinion or practising their constitutional rights. He stressed that the police only wanted to prevent abusing the gathering for provocations.

Korch also told the news wire SITA that grounds for the Czechs' expulsion existed. The official police appeal body negated Korch's statements, however, when it announced that it could not find adequate language in the law to formally support the expulsion.

Immediately after the flag-burning incident, Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic said that freedom of expression had been violated during President Bush's public speech on Hviezdoslavovo square.

Lipšic argued that even burning a flag could be a legitimate expression of an opinion, although it may be a stupid one.

However, commenting directly on the case of the Czechs, Lipšic added that the act could be characterized as a public disturbance considering the proximity of the crowd during the gathering.

"Immediately after the act of flag burning appeared, the daily SME called us to find out what Minister Lipšic thought about the expulsion of the two Czechs from Slovakia. Even at that time, Minister Lipšic said he thought the police proceeding was inappropriate," Justice Ministry spokesperson Richard Fides told The Slovak Spectator.


Magdalena Macleod
contributed to the report.

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