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Freedom in the World 2010 - Czech Republic

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 24 June 2010
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2010 - Czech Republic, 24 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c231246c.html [accessed 2 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Capital: Prague
Population: 10,511,000

Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 1 *
Status: Free

Overview

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek's center-right government was ousted by a vote of no confidence in March 2009, and President Vaclav Klaus appointed Jan Fischer as prime minister of a caretaker government in April. Because a majority of deputies opposed early parliamentary elections, Fischer's government was set to remain in place until regular elections in June 2010. Also during 2009, violence against Roma continued amid worsening economic conditions.


Czechoslovakia was created in 1918 amid the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Soviet forces helped establish a communist government after World War II, and in 1968 they crushed the so-called Prague Spring, a period of halting political liberalization under reformist leader Alexander Dubcek.

In December 1989, a series of peaceful anticommunist demonstrations led by dissident Vaclav Havel and the Civic Forum opposition group resulted in the resignation of the government, in what became known as the Velvet Revolution. Open elections were held the following year. In 1992, a new constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms were adopted, and the country began an ambitious program of political and economic reform under Finance Minister Vaclav Klaus of the center-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS), who became prime minister that year. In 1993, the state dissolved peacefully into separate Czech and Slovak republics, and Havel became president of the former.

Close parliamentary elections in 1998 brought the center-left Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) to power, although an "opposition agreement" between the CSSD and the ODS limited meaningful political competition and brought about several years of political gridlock. Klaus was elected president by Parliament in 2003.

The Czech Republic joined the European Union (EU) in May 2004, but the CSSD's poor showing in June elections for the European Parliament led to Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla's resignation and a period of instability in the ruling coalition.

In the June 2006 lower house elections, the CSSD and the unreformed Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) captured 100 seats (74 and 26, respectively), while three other parties – the ODS, the Christian and Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People's Party (KDU-CSL), and the Greens – also won 100 (81, 13, and 6, respectively). Months of negotiations failed to produce a viable government, as no party was willing to work with the KSCM and the two largest parties were unable to agree on a grand coalition. A fragile government of the ODS, KDU-CSL, and Greens failed a confidence vote in October after serving only one month, but the ODS easily won regional and Senate elections in late October, strengthening its public position.

In January 2007, President Klaus reappointed Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek of the ODS, who had remained in office in a caretaker capacity since the last coalition collapsed. Klaus himself was narrowly reelected in February 2008, receiving 141 votes in Parliament. The CSSD led regional and Senate elections in October 2008, rising to a new total of 29 seats in the Senate and reducing the ODS to a total of 35, ending its majority in the chamber.

Topolanek's coalition government was ousted in a parliamentary vote of no confidence in March 2009, and Klaus appointed Jan Fischer to lead the caretaker government that took over in May. The president set early parliamentary elections for October, but the Constitutional Court blocked them in September after an independent deputy argued that snap elections would violate his right to serve a full term. The CSSD, Greens, and KSCM defeated a subsequent constitutional amendment that would have allowed for early elections. As a result, the caretaker government was set to remain in place until regular parliamentary elections due in June 2010.

Klaus, a skeptic of EU integration, signed the long-delayed Lisbon Treaty in November 2009 after the Constitutional Court deemed it compatible with the Czech constitution and he received assurances that the country could opt out of the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Czech ratification cleared the way for implementation of the treaty, which was intended in part to make EU decision-making more efficient.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The Czech Republic is an electoral democracy. Since the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the country has enjoyed free and fair elections. The Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Parliament, has 200 members elected for four-year terms by proportional representation. The Senate has 81 members elected for six-year terms, with one-third up for election every two years. The president, elected by Parliament for five-year terms, appoints judges, the prime minister, and other cabinet members, but has few other formal powers. The prime minister, whose recommendations determine the cabinet appointments, relies on support from a majority in the Chamber of Deputies to govern.

The three largest political parties are the center-left CSSD; the center-right, market-oriented ODS; and the leftist KSCM. Parties must win at least 5 percent of the vote to enter the lower house.

Corruption affects many sectors of society, and the government has taken little action to improve transparency and prevent graft. National police began investigating former Defense Ministry officials in March 2009 for alleged involvement in fraudulent construction contracts. Separately, a lawmaker from the new centre-right party TOP 09 and two KSCM vice chairmen resigned in September after they were implicated in a newspaper's bribery investigation. The Czech Republic was ranked 52 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of expression is respected, although the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, part of the Czech constitution, prohibits threats against individual rights, state and public security, public health, and morality. The country's print and electronic media are largely in private hands. In February 2009, an appeals court upheld a fine against journalist Sabina Slonkova for refusing to name the source of footage showing an illicit meeting between a lobbyist and a presidential adviser, despite a 2005 Constitutional Court ruling that journalists cannot be compelled to reveal their sources. A new law banning publication of police wiretap records and the names of victims and suspects in specific crimes took effect in April 2009. Critics argue that the law, which carries penalties of up to five years in prison and a fine of CZK 5 million ($270,000), infringes on the public's right to know. Internet access is unrestricted.

The government generally upholds freedom of religion. In July 2009, the KDU-CSL voiced opposition to the construction of a second mosque in Brno, but there is no law that would prevent it. Academic freedom is widely respected.

Czechs may assemble peacefully, form associations, and petition the government. Trade unions and professional associations function freely. The 2007 labor code abolished several restrictions on freedom of association but requires unions within a single enterprise to act in concert when conducting collective bargaining.

The independent judiciary consists of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Administrative Court, and high, regional, and district courts. A 2008 law streamlined the selection procedure for Constitutional Court and Supreme Court judges and established disciplinary measures for those caught accepting bribes. Prisons generally meet international standards, though abuse of vulnerable prisoners serving life-long sentences remains a problem. In December 2009, three policemen were charged with abuse of power for beating a suspected drug dealer to death.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms gives minorities the right to participate in the resolution of matters pertaining to their group. A 1999 law restored citizenship to many residents, including Roma, who continue to experience discrimination. Romany children are reportedly segregated in schools or even sent to schools for the mentally disabled. In April 2009, a two-year-old Romany girl was seriously injured during an arson attack on her family's home. In May, the anti-Roma National Party (Narodni Strana) aired a European Parliament campaign advertisement promising a "final solution to the Gypsy question." Czech Television pulled the ad, but argued that it had no legal right to regulate the content of election material. In November, a representative of the National Party received a one-year suspended sentence and three year's probation for inciting hatred by airing the advertisement. The new Antidiscrimination Act, which took effect in September after the Chamber of Deputies overturned a presidential veto, provides for equal treatment regardless of sex, race, age, or sexual orientation. Promoting denial of the Holocaust and inciting religious hatred remain illegal.

Gender discrimination is legally prohibited. However, sexual harassment in the workplace appears to be fairly common, and women are underrepresented at the highest levels of government and business. They currently hold 14 seats in the 81-member Senate, and 35 of 200 in the Chamber of Deputies. Trafficking of women and girls for prostitution remains a problem. The government has taken steps in recent years to strengthen the reporting and punishment of domestic violence. The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) raised concerns again in 2009 that convicted sex offenders were being surgically castrated without their consent or sufficient information on the surgery and its side effects. The CPT reported that most sex offenders had agreed to the castration to avoid long-term imprisonment and that more than 50 percent had committed nonviolent crimes.


*Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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