Czechs have begun to paint over the heads of the illuminated figures on pedestrian crossings in an act of solidarity with an artists sent to prison after changing the symbols on traffic lights.
The campaign “pedestrian figures lose their heads for Týc” has been winning support across the country since the artist, who goes under the name Roman Týc, started his one month prison sentence on Friday.
“As long as Roman Týc is in prison for the figures, we will paint out their heads as an act of solidarity and of civil disobedience,” explained a page on the social networking site Facebook encouraging support for the artist, whose real name is David Hons.
Headless pedestrian symbols could be seen at around half a dozen spots in the center of Prague as well other main cities around the country. There were also reports on Monday that the protest action had similar demonstrations of solidarity abroad, for example in France and Russia.
Members of the artistic group Ztohoven, of which Týc was a leading light, say they do not know who is responsible for the campaign of solidarity.
Hons was given a prison sentence for refusal to pay a Kč 60,000 fine for replacing the standard “stop” and “walk” symbols in an artistic stunt five years ago. The replacements were an array of unusual and lewd figures, including a hanging man, urinating man and woman, and a one-legged figure. Altogether, he targeted 50 Prague crossings.
Having already paid damages amounting to Kč 80,000, Hons says a further payment would be an admission of guilt and collaboration with a system that he disagrees with. Many prominent figures have denounced the prison sentence, pointing out recent examples of presidential pardons for those accused of more serious crimes and the more general incapacity of the Czech police and legal system to bring anyone to book for corruption and other major crimes.
The Czech Helsinki Committee, a human rights watchdog, said in a statement that it was unhappy with the treatment of Hons and the similar case of a bus driver sentenced for defacing party political posters. “We consider that the reaction of the state has been in both cases excessive,” it said, adding that the new criminal code in force from 2010 allowed a range of other punishments.
The Ztohoven group has carried out a series of high-profile stunts, the most famous being the hacking of a public television webcast of an idyllic Czech beauty spot to make it look as though an atomic bomb had just exploded. The stunt landed group members in court for but the charges were eventually thrown out when the judge ruled that nobody had been scared by the images and everyone understood it as a stunt.