Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression. The law provides for some limitations to this freedom, including in cases of hate speech, Holocaust denial, and denial of communist-era crimes.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other group affiliation. It also limits the denial of the Holocaust and communist-era crimes. Individuals who are found guilty can serve up to three years in prison. The law is also applied to online, print, and broadcast media.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. President Zeman, his spokesperson, and parties on the far right and left publicly alleged bias in both public and private media outlets. The Freedom and Direct Democracy Party (SPD) and the Communist Party openly sought to appoint politically polarizing figures to public media supervisory boards, raising concerns they were attempting to violate the political neutrality of these institutions.
The law prohibits elected officials from controlling media properties while in office. Prime Minister Babis placed ownership of his media assets in a trust fund in 2017. Critics alleged this situation could encourage self-censorship with respect to media coverage of the government.
Transparency International lodged an administrative complaint against Prime Minister Babis in August 2018, alleging that, despite moving his commercial holdings into two trusts in early 2017, Babis still controlled media properties. In January the municipal office where Babis resided determined he had a conflict of interest and imposed a fine of 200,000 crowns ($8,600). The initial ruling was overruled twice by a higher court who halted the proceedings in September, stating it could not prove the prime minister influenced media through his company. Transparency International stated it would file a request with the Ministry of Justice to review the decision.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
The law prohibits, among others, speech that denigrates a nation, race, ethnic, or other group of persons; incites hatred toward members of a group or advocates the restriction of their civil rights; and publicly denies, questions, endorses, or vindicates genocide.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
In February Charles University initiated a second administrative appeal regarding President Zeman’s refusal to appoint two professors, first in 2015 and again in 2018. The Municipal Court overturned President Zeman’s 2015 decision in November 2018, noting at the time executive bodies do not have the authority to assess a candidate’s qualifications following the regular nomination process.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Acts of physical intimidation and vandalism remained serious concerns. NGOs focusing on migration issues reported an increase in telephone and email threats, including death threats (see section 6, Other Societal Violence and Discrimination).
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees and other specifically endangered foreign nationals.
According to the Ministry of Interior, during the first eight months of the year the average length of asylum procedures was 73 days. The length of asylum procedures in 90 percent of all cases met all legal requirements. In the remaining cases, asylum applicants received information about new deadlines for completing the asylum process in compliance with the law. Under the law, the Ministry of Interior should decide on asylum cases within six months if the applicant has submitted all required documents. Observers criticized the length and substance of some decisions.
The ombudsperson’s office issued an official complaint in February criticizing the Ministry of Interior for exceeding the legal deadlines for processing asylum applications for 78 Chinese Christians who filed asylum requests in 2016. The office also stated the ministry failed to inform parties about the deadline extension. In February 2018 the ministry granted asylum to eight individuals and rejected the remaining applications. According to ministry officials, the applicants were not able to prove their claims of persecution or that their lives were in danger as practicing Christians. Most of the rejected applicants appealed the ministry’s decisions in court, and some cases were returned to the ministry for review.
In April the Constitutional Court ruled former justice minister Robert Pelikan’s March 2018 decision to extradite Russian hacker Yevgeny Nikulin violated Nikulin’s rights because his asylum claim was still in process. The ruling prevents future extraditions from occurring while an asylum claim is still in process.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, which calls for authorities to return asylum seekers to the first EU country they entered. The Ministry of Interior accepted asylum applications from individuals arriving from or through countries deemed to be safe, as defined by law. Authorities reviewed all cases individually, but usually did not grant international protection to these applicants. Authorities added 12 countries to the list of safe countries in March.
Freedom of Movement: The length of detention for illegal migrants and rejected asylum seekers was shortened due to implementing a voluntary return system. By law, migrants facing deportation or waiting for voluntary repatriation because of ordered deportation can be detained for up to 180 days. If there are children accompanying the adults, detention can last no more than 90 days with no possibility of further extension. Vulnerable persons, including families, cannot be detained if they apply for international protection.
As of September there were 75 migrants in detention facilities in the country. Five migrants were in a detention facility specifically designed for vulnerable groups, single women without children, and families with children. The Ministry of Interior reported there were no displaced children in the country during the year.
In December 2018 the Constitutional Court annulled some parts of the 2017 amendment to the foreigners’ law ruling courts must still review the legality of detaining foreign nationals even after their release or deportation to ensure they were not detained illegally despite an attempt by the government to eliminate this procedure. The Constitutional Court also annulled a provision that halted foreign nationals’ temporary or permanent residence proceedings if it became apparent they were in the country illegally or had a deportation order.
Durable Solutions: A national integration program managed by the government in close cooperation with UNHCR and NGOs continued. Under the State Integration Program, beneficiaries of international protection are entitled to temporary accommodation, social services, Czech language training, and assistance with finding employment and permanent housing. Children are entitled to school education. In July the government amended the foreigners’ law to include government funding for integration centers beginning July 2020. The centers were previously dependent on EU funding.
The Ministry of Interior runs a long-term program to resettle vulnerable persons with Czech roots back in the Czech Republic. Under the program, the ministry in 2018 resettled approximately 2,000 persons from Ukraine and Venezuela.
The Ministry of Interior started its own assisted voluntary return program in 2017 and effectively used it to help 378 individuals return to their country of origin in 2018. As of September 1, approximately 222 individuals had been voluntarily returned to their countries of origin in 2019.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection (called “subsidiary protection” in the EU) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of September 1, subsidiary protection was granted to 66 individuals during the year. Under EU guidelines, individuals granted subsidiary protection are eligible for temporary residence permits, travel documents, access to employment, equal access to health care and housing, and school education for children.
In July the Ministry of Interior granted subsidiary protection to eight Taiwanese fraud suspects detained in Prague. The group was arrested in February 2018 following a Chinese Interpol notice that it had defrauded Chinese women in Australia. The Prague High Court ruled in June the suspects could be extradited from the Czech Republic to China. The Ministry of Interior granted them subsidiary protection due to concerns they would not receive a fair trial in China.
The Ministry of Interior reported 521 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2018. UNHCR, however, estimated there were 1,502 persons that fell under its statelessness mandate at the end of 2018. The ministry reported 10 stateless persons applied for international protection and seven were granted subsidiary protection by September. The country did not have a legal definition and determination procedure. Stateless persons who do not possess a permanent residency permit were not entitled to receive an identity document. Under certain circumstances, stateless persons can obtain citizenship.