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Freedom in the World 2016 - Czech Republic

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 12 August 2016
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2016 - Czech Republic, 12 August 2016, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/57b1ad5b1b.html [accessed 22 October 2017]
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.

Freedom Status: Free
Aggregate Score: 95
Freedom Rating: 1.0
Political Rights: 1
Civil Liberties: 1

Quick Facts

Capital: Prague
Population: 10,551,227
GDP/capita: $19,553.90
Press Freedom Status: Free
Net Freedom Status: N/A

OVERVIEW

The ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, operated relatively smoothly in 2015, although it faced a no-confidence vote over tax breaks that allegedly benefitted Deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babiš's firms. The May vote, called by the three leading opposition parties, was comfortably defeated in the lower parliamentary house. President Miloš Zeman continued to court controversy with his statements about the refugee crisis and by meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin twice, in defiance of official European Union (EU) and Czech policy. His popularity ratings recovered late in 2015 after a significant decline in the first half of the year.

POLITICAL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES

Political Rights: 38 / 40

A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12

The 200 members of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Parliament, are elected to 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 most recent legislative elections were held in 2013. The Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) finished first, capturing 50 seats, followed closely by its ally, the Movement of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO), which took 47 seats. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) placed third with 33 seats. The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) won just 16 seats, down from 53 seats in 2010. The right-wing Tradition Responsibility Prosperity 09 (TOP 09), the populist Dawn of Direct Democracy (Úsvit), and the Christian Democratic Union-Czech People's Party (KDU-ČSL) won the remaining seats.

The president is directly elected under a 2012 constitutional amendment. The president can veto legislation and appoints judges, central bank officials, the prime minister, and other cabinet members, but the post holds few other formal powers. Previous fears that Zeman was seeking to accumulate power in the president's office subsided in 2015, largely due to his declining popularity and more assertive governance by the ruling coalition.

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 15 / 16

Political parties are free to form and operate. The Czech party system has long been marked by fragmentation. In 2015, the populist Úsvit party experienced internal discord, with several members leaving to found new parties. Generally, however, the party system remained largely unchanged from 2014. Historically, the two main political parties have been the center-left ČSSD and the center-right ODS, which lost a significant share of seats in the 2013 elections. KSČM has been excluded from all national governments so far, but has formed several regional governing coalitions with ČSSD.

The Romany minority lacks meaningful political representation. None of the parties representing the estimated 250,000 Roma living in the country have reached the 5 percent parliamentary threshold, and Romany candidates lack adequate representation in the major parliamentary parties.

C. Functioning of Government: 11 / 12

Despite the Czech Republic's history of unstable governments, the current ruling coalition is relatively robust. The governing parties did not suffer any by-election defeats which could have threatened their position, and no major conflicts emerged among party members. Thanks to its large parliamentary majority, the government comfortably defeated a motion of no-confidence in May 2015.

Corruption has been and continues to be a serious problem in Czech politics. In the early months of 2015, civil society activists claimed that the government was dragging its feet on the introduction of antigraft legislation, and a February report by the Council of Europe highlighted problems related to political party financing. Prime Minister Sobotka dismissed the criticism, arguing that the report evaluated his predecessors' performance and promising to introduce new measures.

In July 2015, a former leading member of the ČSSD, David Ráth, was convicted of corruption and sentenced to eight and a half years in prison following a lengthy trial – a case that could signal the strengthening of rule of law. Ráth appealed the verdict, and the case was ongoing at year's end.

The 2014-2015 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness report noted a strong perception among business executives that government officials routinely favor certain well-connected businesses and individuals when awarding public procurement contracts. In March, Transport Minister Dan Tok of the ANO party was accused of ignoring corrupt practices and bribery during his time as head of the Czech arm of Skanska, a Swedish construction company. In government, Tok has earned the nickname "Mr. Clean" for spearheading a financial transparency campaign.

Civil Liberties: 57 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 16 / 16

Freedom of expression is respected, though the constitution-based Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms limits this freedom in cases of threats against individual rights, state and public security, public health, and morality. Hate speech is a criminal offense, and police may prevent the dissemination of grossly offensive or racist materials at public events. Promoting denial of the Holocaust or of past communist crimes is illegal, as is inciting religious hatred.

The media operate relatively freely, and the government does not place undue restrictions on content. Legislation protects private ownership of media outlets, but concerns remain about recent media acquisitions by wealthy business figures and their potential impact on journalists' ability to investigate local commercial interests. The government does not restrict internet access.

The government generally upholds freedom of religion. Tax benefits and financial support are provided to registered religious groups. The state has initiated a process to return land confiscated from churches by the 1948-89 communist regime, which will take place over the next 30 years. Expressions of Islamophobic sentiment increased in 2015, mostly due to the refugee crisis confronting European states. Several large protests took place against perceived "Islamification" of the country, and at least one – a demonstration held in Olomouc in May – was accompanied by distorted reporting in Czech media outlets. In November, the state prosecutor filed a criminal complaint against Martin Konvička, a leading figure of the far right, for inciting violence and hatred against Muslims.

Academic freedom is respected. Ceremonial presidential approval is required for academic positions. Private discussion is free and vibrant.

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12

Czechs may assemble peacefully, form associations, and petition the government. The Prague Pride Parade – an annual event held by the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community – had its biggest turnout to date in 2015. The number of attendees doubled from the previous year, with an estimated 35,000 people participating. No violent incidents took place.

Approximately 85,000 registered nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in the country, generally without intimidation or interference from government or security forces. Most organizations struggle with weak funding, and only a small portion of registered NGOs are fully active.

Trade unions and professional associations function freely, though they are weak in practice. The largest trade union, the Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (ČMKOS), incorporates 29 member unions and has over 300,000 members. Workers have the right to strike, though this right is limited for essential public employees, such as hospital workers and air traffic controllers.

F. Rule of Law: 14 / 16

The judiciary is largely independent, though its complexity and multilayered composition have led to slow delivery of judgments. A 2010 report produced by the country's counterintelligence agency found that corruption within the Czech Republic's judicial system was "very sophisticated," making detection difficult.

The rule of law generally prevails in civil and criminal matters. While corruption and political pressure remain within law enforcement agencies, the office of the public prosecutor has become more independent in recent years.

Prisons in the Czech Republic suffer from overcrowding and poor sanitation. Following former president Václav Klaus's controversial prisoner amnesty in 2013, the police reported an increased crime rate in January 2014.

The 2009 Antidiscrimination Act provides for equal treatment regardless of sex, race, age, disability, belief, or sexual orientation. However, Roma face discrimination in the job market and significantly poorer housing conditions, as well as occasional threats and violence from right-wing groups. President Zeman received criticism from Romany rights action groups in January 2015, when he advocated for Romany and disabled children to be segregated from their classmates in schools. In September, the Czech Constitutional Court ruled that judges cannot dismiss school segregation cases based on the percentage of Romany children in a classroom alone. Some activists argued that the decision did not go far enough to guarantee an inclusive educational system, particularly because it did not condemn the practice of administering intelligence assessments that determine children's placement in either regular or special education programs.

Asylum seekers are routinely detained, and conditions in detention centers are generally poor. Amid a significant influx of asylum seekers in 2015, a former Constitutional Court justice warned the government that its approach to asylum could lead to legal action at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The authorities were under fire for lengthy detentions and the mistreatment of asylum seekers. In November, Prime Minister Sobotka criticized President Zeman for attending an explicitly anti-Muslim and antirefugee rally on the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Sobotka also praised the efforts of volunteers who helped the government and NGOs provide basic services to asylum seekers and refugees.

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 15 / 16

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 – as of 2015, they held 40 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. According to data from the European Commission, the gender pay gap in the Czech Republic is one of the largest in the EU.

The Czech Republic's lustration law aims to keep those with close ties to the country's former communist regime out of high-level political, judicial, and military positions.

Same-sex marriages are not legally recognized, but LGBT people do not otherwise face significant discrimination.

Human trafficking remains a problem, and criminal rings use the Czech Republic as a source, transit, and destination point; women and children are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The government has made increasing efforts in recent years to fund protective services and other resources for victims, and to prosecute perpetrators.

Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

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