A TOTAL of 753 prisoners have been released from jail after President Ivan Gašparovič granted the presidential amnesties to mark the 20th anniversary of the setting up of an independent Slovak Republic. Though some of the released have already returned to prison, Police Corps President Tibor Gašpar says that so far the amnesty has not worsened the security situation in Slovakia.
The presidential amnesties were praised by the Justice Ministry which considers them a balanced decision and, in some way, a dignified celebration of the independence of Slovakia.
“In some way [it] gives people, who have violated the law, the chance to have their crime forgiven and to integrate into real life,” State Secretary of the Justice Ministry, Monika Jankovská, told the press conference held on January 2, as quoted by the SITA newswire.
The amnesty will have two phases. The first one, which has already taken place, related mostly to the imprisoned convicts. The final number of the pardoned prisoners was higher than the presidential office originally predicted. Specifically, an additional 250 people received pardons. The released people were mostly those “who were imprisoned for committing the crime of theft, obstruction of official decisions, fraud, embezzlement, etc.”, spokesperson for the Justice Ministry Jana Zlatohlávková told the TASR newswire.
The second phase will concern the convicts released on parole and those who have been sentenced by courts but have not begun their jail terms yet, Jankovská said at the press conference. The second phase might be longer than the first one since the courts will have to prepare the files about all cases concerned, SITA wrote.
Before the amnesty, there were up to 10,862 prisoners in Slovak jails, with 9,559 serving post-trial sentences. Convicts in the lowest-security penitentiaries, whose number stood at 5,160, accounted for the largest share of the total, with 1,198 of them serving sentences of less than 18 months, TASR wrote.
The highest number of convicts was released from the prison in Hrnčiarovce nad Parnou, near Trnava – up to 214 people, while only one person was freed from Ružomberok, SITA wrote.
The granted pardon also cut the overcrowded capacity of 18 Slovakia’s prisons. Before January 2 it stood at 108 percent, while after releasing the prisoners it dropped to 99 percent. Yet, the number might increase again since they are still more than 1,800 people who have been sentenced by courts but have not begun their jail terms yet. The Justice Ministry has refused the claim that the aim of the amnesty is to reduce the burden of prisons, SITA wrote.
Police Corps President Tibor Gašpar said that the whole process of releasing the prisoners has not worsened the security situation. The police officers have been preparing for the amnesty since mid December and have been cooperating with prison guards, SITA reported.
Also Adrián Baláž, head of the secretariat at the Justice and Prison Guard Department (ZVJS), confirmed to TASR that there were no disruptions in the penitentiaries concerned.
Yet, several prisoners enjoyed the freedom only for a couple of hours. For example, a 39-year-old man was arrested in Trnava after he had threatened his former wife and her new partner. Another man was caught in Stará Turá, Trenčín Region, when trying to steal alcohol from a shop, the Hospodárske noviny daily reported on January 5.
Not all prisoners were eligible to be pardoned
The right of the president to pardon or mitigate punishment imposed by courts during criminal proceedings or to lift a court sentence via an amnesty belongs to the rights granted by the constitution.
The latest amnesty concerned those who have been sentenced to a maximum of 18 months in lowest-security prisons and those whose sentences have been suspended. The president further decided to pardon citizens of European Union’s member states who were expelled from Slovakia before August 1, 2004, as well people who committed crimes during mandatory military service or mandatory alternative military service. Young people sentenced to less than 18 months in prison also had the chance to be released, TASR wrote.
On the other hand, the amnesty did not apply to those sentenced for the following crimes: those resulting in death, grievous bodily harm or large-scale damage; those that involved neglect of children or threatened an ethical upbringing for young people; drug-trafficking; serving alcoholic beverages to adolescents; and crimes committed under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
In addition, those eligible for the amnesty potentially included certain groups of people who did not comply with the above-mentioned criteria, including people suffering from serious life-threatening and untreatable diseases, people older than 65, pregnant women, and parents who are taking care of young children by themselves, TASR reported.
Current presidential amnesty is developed and elaborated, said dean of the Faculty of Law of the Pan-European University in Bratislava and former head of the investigators at the Interior Ministry Jaroslav Ivor.
“When evaluating a couple of amnesties which have already been granted, this amnesty is not very vast, it is coherent amnesty and it relates to small number of convicts,” Ivor told SITA.
He praised several measures which limit the number of released prisoners and exclude several groups of more serious crimes, or the fact that it pertains mainly to people who were convicted for the first time, people committing minor crimes or adolescents.
Amnesties in the Czech Republic criticised
Similarly to Gašparovič, Czech President Václav Klaus also granted amnesty to many to mark the 20th anniversary of the setting up of an independent Czech Republic. The presidential pardon pertained to people with forgiven unrealised non-conditioned punishments or the remains of such punishments if they were passed before January 1, 2013 and are not longer than one year. Moreover, Klaus also pardoned convicts aged 75 and more whose punishment is not longer than 10 years, and to moderate some selected non-conditioned punishments, the SITA newswire reported.
The amnesty pertained to about 7,400 prisoners, including Slovak singer Dara Rolins who was sentenced to an 18-month imprisonment after she killed a biker back in 2010, or a corrupted judge and former head of the football association in Morava Region František Chvalovský, who was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 10-year imprisonment. The amnesties also included 13 cases of grave economic crimes dating back to 1990s, when Klaus was prime minister or finance minister, the Sme daily wrote.
Experts and the political opposition criticised the amnesties. Even TOP 09 party, the coalition partner of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), whose member Klaus is, distanced itself from this step. Former constitutional judge Eliška Wagnerová said that in the cases which have not been closed yet, the victims of crimes might lose the right to claim financial compensation, Sme reported.
Meanwhile, Klaus announced that he plans to grant more amnesties, which might result in the increase of pardoned convicts to about 20,000, according to TASR.
The January amnesties were not the first ones
Ivan Gašparovič was not the first president to grant amnesty to convicts. Since 1989 there have been several presidential pardons. The biggest of them was the one from 1990 when then president of Czechoslovakia Václav Havel allowed to release more than 23,000 people, of which 10,000 were Slovaks, from prisons. The critics also blamed Havel for releasing criminals. But, the president explained that the punishment of many of them would expire that year, the public-service broadcaster Slovak Radio (SRo) reported.
One of the most criticised amnesties was the one that took place in 1998 when then prime minister Vladimír Mečiiar served as Slovakia’s deputy president. He granted pardon to people convicted in the case of kidnapping son of first Slovak president Michal Kováč to Austria in 1995, as well as those connected with marred referendum in 1997. The amnesties are still very controversial for Slovakia.
Also previous president Rudolf Schuster pardoned the prisoners in 1999 and 2000, after which people with low punishments were allowed to leave the jail, SRo informed.