Czech justice minister to intervene over jailed political graffiti “vandal”

Jailed bus driver Roman Smetana who defaced political party campaign posters could be freed next week following an intervention by the justice minister

Society
Tom Jones | 03.05.2012
Roman Smetana is currently serving a 100-day sentence in Prague's Pánkrac prison

Czech Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil (Civic Democrats, ODS) plans to lodge a complaint against the conviction of Roman Smetana, the bus driver from Olomouc who wrote graffiti on political campaign posters but refused to accept his action qualified as a criminal act. Pospíšil’s move comes following public outcry and criticism from the watchdog Czech Helsinki Commission for Human Rights.   

“We will put forward the proposal and will leave it to the Supreme Court to consider the option of annulling the punishment as is within the powers of the court,” Pospíšil told the server novinky.cz on Thursday. “[The complaint] is rather of symbolic significance. We’re interested in setting a judicial precedent for the future and for the Supreme Court to say clearly whether drawing on an election campaign poster is a criminal act or just a minor offence,” he added.   

Justice Minister spokeswoman Petra Hrubá said that the text of the ministry’s complaint will be made known on Friday.

The complaint could prompt the Supreme Court to release Smetana before actually reviewing the complaint from the Ministry of Justice. “Recently we had a case here in which shortly after receiving a proposal [to review a case] we cancelled the convicted person’s sentence but reviewed the actual complaint two months later,” Supreme Court spokesman Petr Knötig explained to the news servernovinky.cz.

‘We’re interested in setting a judicial precedent for the future and for the Supreme Court to say clearly whether drawing on an election campaign poster is a criminal act or just a minor offence.’

In 2010, 30 year-old Roman Smetana, then a bus driver with the public transport company in Olomouc, northern Moravia, took a pen to some 30 election campaign posters, mostly for the center-right Civic Democrats (ODS) adding derogatory comments and facial features. Smetana was initially ordered by the court in Olomouc to pay a fine and damages. Although he paid a fine for damaging property — as he said to avoid a visit by bailiffs — Smetana refused to fulfill a community service order imposed by the court. When he then refused to adhere to home imprisonment as an alternative punishment he was sentenced to 100 days in jail.

The judge who presided over Smetana’s case and sentenced him was Markéta Langerová, the wife of former interior minister and prominent ODS member Ivan Langer, who was among the politicians Smetana targeted with his pen. The Czech Helsinki Commission for Human Rights singled out this circumstance in a letter expressing concern over the case sent to Justice Minister Pospíšil. The commission also said that Smetana’s act should under no account have been dealt with by the criminal courts.

Smetana did not turn up to prison to serve his term, but following an anti-government demonstration in Prague on April 21 he turned himself in to the police.

Pospíšil told  novinky.cz that legal opinion he sought over Smetana’s case was divided as to whether the ministry should lodge a complaint. The Justice Minister added that essentially the case represents a conflict between protecting property and defending rights to political expression. 

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