Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without governmental restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views, although some politicians disparaged NGOs in public remarks.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Government has a commissioner for human rights as well as several advisory and working-level bodies related to human rights, including the Government Council for Human Rights, the Council for Roma Minority Affairs, the Council for National Minorities, and the Board for Persons with Disabilities. The Governmental Council for Coordination of the Fight against Corruption was placed under the Ministry of Justice, and the Agency for Social Inclusion was placed under the Ministry of Regional Development.
The ombudsperson (public defender of rights) operated without government or party interference and had adequate resources. The ombudsperson’s office issued quarterly and annual reports to the government on its activities in addition to reports and recommendations on topics of special concern.
Human rights observers generally regarded the office of the ombudsperson as effective. The new ombudsperson elected in March, however, was widely criticized by NGOs, the Romani community, and some politicians who contended the ombudsperson had publicly downplayed the extent of discrimination faced by Roma and other minorities. The ombudsperson also stated that the protection of human rights was not among the functions of his office. Many observers called for the establishment of an independent institute for human rights. In addition to the public defender of rights, the country has ombudspersons for security forces and for education.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape, and provides a penalty of two to 10 years in prison for violations, with longer sentences in aggravated circumstances. The government did not consistently enforce the law effectively.
Observers reported prosecutors and judges in rape cases often lacked knowledge on the subject and cited a shortage of experienced judicial experts. Demanding criminal procedures required repeated victim testimonies that contributed to their further traumatization. Penalties were often too low, and only half of all sentences included prison time.
NGOs and attorneys reported that an increasing number of victims of sexual violence did not meet the legal definition of a “particularly vulnerable victim,” attributing it to the court’s interpretation of the term. Victims were consequently not entitled to benefits such as free legal representation in courts. Victims of sexual violence were insufficiently shielded from “secondary or tertiary victimization,” which includes exposing them to attackers and asking about prior sexual history. In court proceedings, victims of sexual violence had the burden of proving lack of consent. Perpetrators of spousal rape, including brutal attacks, were frequently given inadequate sentences, including probation.
In July a regional court confirmed a lower court’s June decision that a victim of domestic violence did not qualify as a “particularly vulnerable victim” and therefore did not receive free legal representation. Her partner had repeatedly physically attacked her, choked her, and threatened her with a knife. The court based its decision on the victim’s financial means, ability to seek help, and a lack of evidence that she was at risk of secondary harm.
Domestic violence is punishable by up to four years in prison, with longer sentences in aggravated circumstances. Police have the authority to remove violent abusers from their homes for 10 days. The law states a removal order can remain in effect for a total of up to six months, including extensions. The Ministry of Interior reported police removed 1,256 offenders from their homes in 2019.
The law also provides protection against domestic violence to other individuals living in the household, especially children and seniors. The government supported a widely used hotline for crime and domestic violence victims.
In July, Charles University and several NGOs issued a survey evaluating the impact on domestic violence of the restrictive measures imposed in the spring due to COVID-19. The survey concluded the government failed to respond to the increased number of cases. NGOs reported that courts adjourned most of the proceedings related to domestic violence and sexual abuse while they continued to process other, less serious, cases. The survey noted that NGOs filled the gap and introduced new online services, virtual consultations, and other support measures to assist the increased cases of domestic violence unaddressed by the government.
In February the Vodafone Foundation, police, and the NGO Rosa fully launched a new mobile application, Bright Sky CZ. The application enables endangered persons to document incidents of domestic violence and provides a list of nearby domestic violence support services. It also serves as a resource for family and friends to help those suffering from abuse. In the first five months, 1,300 persons downloaded the application, and users submitted more than 500 questionnaires regarding their safety (in 270 cases the questionnaire was done by a third person regarding a potential victim).
NGOs reported an increase in calls to domestic violence hotlines during the spring COVID-19 lockdown. Some attributed the increase to the rise in domestic violence during the COVID-19 related state of emergency, with some NGOs reporting up to a 40 percent increase in their workloads or clients. Others attributed the increase in calls to the fact that in-person assistance was not possible during the state of emergency. Police data did not reflect an increase in domestic violence, but many NGOs attributed this to the limited work of police officers during the state of emergency.
Sexual Harassment: The antidiscrimination law prohibits sexual harassment and treats it as a form of direct discrimination. If convicted, penalties may include fines, dismissal from work, and up to eight years in prison. Police often delayed investigations until the perpetrator committed serious crimes, such as sexual coercion, rape, or other forms of physical assault.
Offenders convicted of stalking may receive sentences of up to three years in prison.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals in most cases had the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Most had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government does not allow women access to artificial insemination (e.g., using the cells of an anonymous donor) without the written consent of their partner, and medical providers can only use artificial insemination for opposite-sex couples. Unmarried persons, persons who do not have consent from a partner, and LGBTI persons are therefore ineligible to receive treatment. Some observers reported that Roma faced obstructions in access to health care in general, including to reproductive health care.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Transgender individuals must undergo sterilization to obtain a sex change or receive legal gender recognition.
Discrimination: The law grants men and women the same legal status and rights, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Women sometimes experienced employment and wage discrimination (see section 7.d.).
Observers criticized measures implemented under the first COVID-19 state of emergency that prevented persons other than medical personnel from attending childbirths, on the grounds that it was an infringement on the parental rights of fathers and the rights of birthing women to have help and support.
Although the number of children growing up in institutions has declined, the numbers were still very high. Observers criticized the length of foster care proceedings, the rising number of social work cases involving abuse or mistreatment, the lack of public housing, and difficulty accessing adaptive equipment for children with disabilities. Observers also criticized the lack of effective tools for identifying child victims in a timely manner. The lack of a centralized regulatory body or coordinated interministerial approach to child issues slowed the reform process.
In November the Council of Europe’s European Committee of Social Rights criticized the country for the extensive and discriminatory placement of disabled and Romani children in institutional care, such as infant homes for small children. According to their findings, the problem concerned hundreds of children younger than age three, mainly from low-income families.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents. Any child with at least one citizen parent is automatically a citizen. Children born to noncitizens, such as asylum seekers or migrants, retain their parents’ citizenship. Authorities registered births immediately.
Child Abuse: Prison sentences for persons found guilty of child abuse range from five to 12 years.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs registered approximately 2,500 cases in which children experienced family violence. NGOs estimated 40,000 children experience some form of violence each year.
During the spring COVID-19 state of emergency, the government placed strict restrictions on the freedom of movement, subject to few exceptions such as procurement of food and medical services. In June the Children Crisis Center reported a twofold increase during the first half of the year in reported child abuse, including sexual violence. The center attributed the increase to social isolation, financial and psychological consequences of the pandemic and related restrictions, and the inability of children and families to access other assistance. In one case an abusive family member was returned to the household after his adult daughter asked for his removal because the emergency services could not place him in an open shelter or available housing.
Media reported several cases of child abuse that resulted in deaths, including several infants. Most deaths resulted from physical abuse by stepfathers or partners of mothers and involved substance abuse or mental health issues. Observers called for the establishment of a committee that would examine deaths of children and propose recommendations on systemic preventive measures. NGOs also called for increased support and funding to government agencies that provide legal assistance and social services to children.
In its annual report, the ombudsperson reported that facilities for short-term care of children in emergency situations were often used for unintended long-term housing, lacked expert psychological assistance for children, and did not communicate sufficiently with the children’s families.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Some members of the Romani community married before reaching legal age. The law allows for marriage at the age of 16 with court approval; no official marriages were reported of anyone younger than 16.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and the possession, manufacture, and distribution of child pornography, which is punishable by imprisonment for up to eight years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. Sexual relations with a child younger than 15 is punishable by a prison term of up to eight years, or more in the presence of aggravating circumstances. The law prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of two to 10 years in prison for violations, with longer sentences in the presence of aggravating circumstances. These laws were generally enforced.
In February a documentary film, In the Net (V siti), premiered that followed online and in-person interactions between actresses posing as underage girls and real-life sexual predators and gained significant media attention. In the 10 days after they created three fake personal social media accounts, a total of 2,458 men contacted the women posing as underage girls. As a result of the film, police initiated nine criminal investigations on charges for illicit contact with a child, endangering the morals of a child, or possession of child pornography. The perpetrators were between the ages of 21 and 62; none had a prior criminal history. At least four men were convicted and received suspended sentences. One man had threatened to rape one of the actresses–who was posing as a 12-year-old–and attempted to blackmail her by posting her nude photos on social media. His case drew significant media coverage in November when he reached a plea agreement reducing the potential maximum sentence of 12 years to a three-year suspended sentence with five years’ probation.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There were approximately 10,000 Jews in the country. Public expressions of anti-Semitism were rare, but small, fairly well organized right-wing groups with anti-Semitic views were active. The Ministry of Interior continued to monitor the activities of extremist groups and cooperated with police from neighboring countries as well as the local Jewish community.
The Ministry of Interior recorded 23 criminal offenses related to anti-Semitism in 2019. The Federation of Jewish Communities reported 697 incidents with anti-Semitic motives in 2019, of which 95 percent were cases of hate speech on the internet. Police investigated the publisher of a Czech translation of an anti-Semitic book for children written by a German author in 1938.
In July the government approved the 2020 Counter Extremism and Hate Crime Strategy that emphasized communication, prevention, and education to curb extremism and combat hostility of radicals. The strategy also addressed extremism and hate crimes on the internet.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The ombudsperson acted as a mediator in most cases, and a small number of cases were prosecuted in the courts. Persons with disabilities continued to face a shortage of public social accommodations as well as accommodation on the market. Economic growth and measures to increase employment opportunities for persons with disabilities led to a significant decrease in the number of unemployed persons with disabilities, although the COVID-19 pandemic slowed that trend.
According to law, only children with significant disabilities should attend segregated schools with specially trained teachers. The government took steps that limited access of children with disabilities to educational support, including teaching assistants, citing budgetary constraints. A legal challenge to the changes was pending. Many children with disabilities were able to attend mainstream primary and secondary schools and universities, but funding for additional educational support such as teaching assistants and equipment remained insufficient.
In October an NGO published a report based on a survey of 335 Czech organizations that work with persons with disabilities. In the previous three years, 52 percent of the organizations encountered at least one case of violence against a person with disabilities, and one-third encountered violence based on prejudice. The organizations stated that many cases of violence against persons with disabilities were not reported; 18 percent of respondents stated that either they or their colleagues had previously been attacked in connection with their work. Respondents reported a broad range of prejudicial violence, including verbal insults and humiliation by strangers in public places; harassment and bullying in the school, workplace, and neighborhoods; and robbery, extortion, and physical assaults by family members or friends. Perpetrators included nurses in caretaker facilities, special education teachers, and state employees.
The NGO report cited a case in which a man at a train station attacked an adult who had a mild mental disability and visual impairment associated with difficulty in expression and poor spatial orientation. The perpetrator called the victim insulting names evoking the victim’s disabilities, filmed the attack on his cell phone, and made derogatory comments against persons with disabilities in general.
In July the government approved its National Plan for the Promotion of Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities for 2021-2025.
The ombudsperson’s office is a monitoring body under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In September the office held the first meeting of a newly established advisory body for persons with disabilities. The ombudsperson visited governmental and private workplaces employing incarcerated or institutionalized persons, including persons with disabilities, to examine conditions, assure respect for fundamental rights, and advocate for improved protection against mistreatment. The ombudsperson criticized the lack of accommodations for disabilities in the railroad industry and assisted on cases in that field. The ombudsperson also criticized the lack of guide dog access laws.
The ombudsperson reported in October that courts had addressed 19 cases of discrimination based the grounds of disability from 2015 to 2019, in which the ombudsperson participated in 14. The cases alleged discrimination in employment, education, medical care, accessibility, and social inclusion. Plaintiffs sought and were entitled to various forms of relief, including monetary penalties and injunctions. The ombudsperson highlighted that the cases resulted in a number of positive outcomes, including recognition that HIV infection is a “physical disability”; judgments in favor of a man who was denied an apartment because of visual impairment and a child who was denied education because of an autism diagnosis; and an extension of the right of parents of a deceased girl with disabilities to file a complaint.
According to the Office of the Government, ministries were not complying with the law requiring companies and institutions with more than 25 employees to have 4 percent of staff be persons with physical disabilities. Instead of employing persons with disabilities, many companies and institutions either paid fines or bought products from companies that employed persons with disabilities, a practice that the National Disability Council and the ombudsperson criticized.
The ombudsperson reported 32 percent of proven discrimination cases from 2009 to 2019 were due to disabilities.
In 2019 a district court in Ceske Budejovice agreed with the ombudsperson that a teacher with a visual impairment was the victim of discrimination by the school principal, who bullied her and ultimately attempted to terminate her employment on the grounds of disability. The court granted the teacher compensation, and the school withdrew the notice of termination. During the year the ombudsperson similarly helped a visually impaired person after an appliance vendor failed to accommodate her disability. The penalty included additional training for the vendor’s employees.
There were approximately 300,000 Roma in the country, and many faced varying levels of discrimination in education, employment, and housing, as well as high levels of poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy. The government introduced some legal measures that were considered controversial and moved the Agency for Social Inclusion from the Office of the Government to the Ministry of Regional Development. The agency lost the capacity to coordinate work with different ministries.
Hate crimes against Roma and minorities continued to be a problem. In September a regional court in Ostrava sentenced a man to five years in prison for attacking and injuring a Romani man in a bar. The court determined that the attack was motivated purely by the victim’s ethnicity. The judgment was subject to further appeals.
Government officials noted problems faced by dozens of Romani Czechs who returned from the United Kingdom during the year, both due to COVID-19 and Brexit. The returning citizens resettled primarily in areas with heavy concentration of Roma, such as the towns of Ostrava and Usti nad Labem, and confronted a lack of housing and social assimilation problems. Anticipating that more Roma would return from the United Kingdom due to Brexit, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs sent a representative to Czech consular offices in the United Kingdom to assist them.
School segregation remained a problem. NGOs reported there are approximately 12 schools that are fully segregated and 70 where more than half of the pupils are Roma. Observers criticized attempts by the Ministry of Education to limit the availability of educational support and to undermine minorities’ interests by amending the implementing regulations of well received 2016 legislation promoting integrated education.
Experts noted that the Education Development Strategy 2020-2030 issued by the Ministry of Education lacks a specific action plan, funding, and delegation of responsibilities. Experts also noted that precise statistics on percentages of Romani students in public schools were missing, hindering the formulation of effective inclusion measures.
Approximately one-third of Roma lived in socially excluded communities and continued to face difficulties obtaining both public and private housing. Unemployment in these communities was 31 percent, compared with 6 percent or less in nearby areas before the COVID-19 pandemic. Some municipalities continued to use a 2017 amendment to the law addressing poverty, which reduced government housing subsidies in areas that cities designated as blighted, to push Roma and other low-income citizens into a city’s periphery. Observers reported that this tool was even used against individual families to move them from their houses. Several senators initiated a constitutional complaint and requested the Constitutional Court to annul certain provisions of the law; however, the case remained pending. A government-funded investment program focused on building new public housing units and providing social services through two projects totaling 1.35 billion crowns ($58 million) continued and was made available to more cities. The Agency for Social Inclusion continued to oppose a shipping-container housing proposal in the city of Most and provided alternate solutions for the Chanov housing division; the city continued with its program, however.
The government took steps to promote Romani culture and heritage. The Museum of Romani Culture received a property in Prague from the Ministry of Culture to serve as the site of a new cultural center. Demolition of a Communist-era pig farm at the site of a WWII concentration camp for Roma in the town of Lety was postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic, although the projected completion date of 2023 remained unchanged.
Roma were the most frequent targets of hate speech on the internet, and authorities took steps to address it. In October a regional court upheld a suspended sentence for a man who posted threatening comments on the internet under a school photo of first graders from a local school. The children were mainly Romani, Arab, and Vietnamese, and the comments suggested sending them to gas chambers. The regional court denied the appeal.
In August police brought charges against an individual for posting an online article about an apartment building fire in the town of Bohumin in which 11 persons died. The article baselessly claimed the alleged arsonist and victims were Roma and used graphic and offensive language in reference to the victims and the incident. Charges carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
In March a court sentenced 13 individuals to suspended penalties (up to 16 months in prison with four years’ probation) for online attacks against Romani singer Radoslav Banga. In 2016 Banga posted on Facebook that he had walked out of the Czech Nightingale music awards ceremony to protest an award given to Ortel, a band associated with the far right. In response hundreds of hate comments appeared on Facebook. One comment called for a “white homeland” and for minorities to be sent to the gas chambers.
Antidiscrimination laws prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, and access to health care, and the government generally enforced such laws. The country does not have specific hate crime provisions covering sexual orientation and gender identity. The number of incidents of violence based on sexual orientation was low. Local LGBTI leaders stated citizens were largely tolerant of LGBTI persons but feared society tended generally to be more divided and intolerant to minority groups.
Based on a 2019 survey by the ombudsperson, 86 percent of transgender persons reported experiencing discrimination in the previous five years, compared to 58 percent of lesbian and 33 percent of gay persons. More than one-third of surveyed LGBTI persons claimed they had faced discrimination in the previous five years, which was three times higher than for the general population. Of LGBTI survey participants, 91 percent indicated they did not report incidents of discrimination to authorities because they believed the incidents were either minor or that authorities would not take action. The most common locations where discrimination against LGBTI persons occurred were at work and school.
The law on victims of crimes covers lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender minorities, but they are not considered “particularly vulnerable persons” and are not entitled to additional legal protections, unlike children, seniors, and victims of trafficking or terrorism.
During Prague Pride Week in August 2019, an individual set fire to a rainbow flag and fired flares at visitors to Pride Village–the main site of the Prague pride activities. The perpetrator was conditionally sentenced to 10-months’ imprisonment with a probation period of five years and assessed a monetary penalty.
NGOs reported a 50 percent increase in LGBTI children and teenagers who sought help in crisis centers during the COVID-19 pandemic. NGOs attributed the increase to the inability of LGBTI youth, some of whom have not publicly come out, to connect socially and in person with their peers in the LGBTI community.
Transgender individuals are required to be sterilized to obtain a sex change or receive legal gender recognition. The Council of Europe found this practice contrary to EU member commitments on the protection of health. The ombudsperson recommended the government submit amendments to relevant laws. In May 2019 the Supreme Administrative Court ruled, contrary to the European Court for Human Rights, the sterilization requirement was legitimate. The decision was challenged in the Constitutional Court, and the case was pending.
Persons with HIV and AIDS faced societal discrimination, although there were no reported cases of violence. HIV/AIDS is classified as a disability under the antidiscrimination law, which contributed to the stigmatization of and discrimination against HIV-positive individuals. Individuals with HIV and AIDS often preferred to keep their status confidential rather than file a complaint, which observers believed led to underreporting the problem. The Czech AIDS Help Society noted most insurance companies did not provide health insurance to persons with HIV and AIDS.
NGOs reported that some physicians refused to treat HIV-positive patients, and 67 percent of an estimated 3,500 HIV-positive persons in the country reported they were denied medical care at least once. Some patients were openly told that HIV was the reason for the denial. Observers were concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic may have led to reduced testing for HIV and resulted in fewer diagnoses.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Observers noted violence and discrimination against NGO employees and foreigners.
Online hate attacks, including death threats, against the director of an NGO that provides legal support to hate crime victims, including different minority groups and migrants, continued in 2019 and 2020. The director received hundreds of hate emails. The perpetrator testified at court that the main motivation for his attacks was to force the director to stop devoting her time to protection of victims of hate crimes. Employees of NGOs focusing on persons with disabilities also reported verbal attacks.
NGOs actively worked to combat anti-Muslim attitudes and reported a decrease in reported incidents. In October 2019 the district court in Teplice gave suspended sentences to a couple for the 2018 attack on a Muslim woman and her husband. The couple confronted the woman and her husband in a park in Teplice with an air gun and threatened to kill them.
In April a female Muslim student from Somalia withdrew her lawsuit against her secondary medical school, which banned wearing a hijab in school. At the time of the withdrawal, the matter was pending before a trial court in Prague after the Supreme Court remanded the case, stating that religious pluralism must be respected. The plaintiff cited fears of threats and retaliation as her reasons for withdrawing the lawsuit.