PRAGUE A group of Czech lawmakers, including some from the ruling coalition, have proposed making defamation of the president a criminal offence, a sensitive move in a country where such a law was used to lock up dissidents during the communist era.The proposed criminal code amendment, sponsored by 64 of the 200 members of the lower house of parliament, says: "Whoever publicly defames the president of the republic or hinders the execution of his powers and thus denigrates his reputation."Under the amendment a convicted person would face a jail sentence of up to one year or a fine.The main sponsor of the bill, Communist lawmaker Zdenek Ondracek, said the aim of the proposal was to restore respect for the office of head of state at a time when he said politics was too often marred by insults.
"I hear more and more often from abroad that we are a nation of boors who don't respect anything," said Ondracek, who served as a police officer before the 1989 Velvet Revolution that overthrew the communist regime.Several other European countries, including neighbouring Germany and Austria, have similar defamation laws. The Czech Republic had such a law until 1998, when prominent dissident and author Vaclav Havel was president.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said he opposed the proposal, though it had the backing of 15 of his 50 Social Democrat deputies in the lower house. Sobotka said such a law could be used as a political tool to prevent legitimate criticism.President Milos Zeman will not comment on the proposal, his spokesman said.
Zeman, who has spoken out strongly against taking in migrants and has been sympathetic to Russia in the Ukraine crisis, has often attracted strong criticism. (Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Gareth Jones)
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