The country joins the European Union on 1 May 2004 but has not yet brought its defamation laws up to international standards. A journalist investigating a firm's affairs received deaths in 2003.

The offences of defaming the president, government, parliament and the constitutional court were abolished in the 1990s, but the law still provides for up to two years imprisonment for defamation of others through the media. Courts no longer send journalists to jail but politicians are stepping up lawsuits against them. A former foreign ministry secretary-general was convicted in 2003 of ordering the murder a year earlier of an investigative journalist. Death threats to a TV journalist looking into a company's affairs, as well as a plan to physically attack him, also caused a stir.

New information about a plot to kill a journalist in 2002

The Prague appeals court upheld on 30 October 2003 an eight-and-a-half-year prison sentence passed on former foreign ministry secretary-general Karel Srba by a court in the southwestern town of Ceske Budejovice on 30 June for plotting to kill investigative journalist Sabina Slonkova, of the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes. The appeals court also upheld jail terms of between four and six years for three accomplices.

The public TV station CT broadcast live the start of the appeal hearing and the reading of the verdict. The broadcast was to have lasted several hours but was cut short at the request of two of the accomplices.

Srba was accused of hiring people to kill Slonkova in July 2002 by shooting or a bomb explosion. But one of the would-be killers told police and the journalist received police protection. Srba had been forced out of his job in March 2001 after Slonkova and a colleague, Jiri Kubik, reported he had made a deal, very unfavourable to the government, to rent a profitable restaurant in Moscow to be run by the Czech foreign ministry.

A journalist threatened

Six officials of the fertiliser firm Fytos, in Melnik (north of Prague), were arrested on 21 October 2003 for planning an attack on journalist Jiri Hynek, of the TV station CT, to force him to stop investigating the company. They were prepared to pay about 8,000 euros to have his arms and legs broken. Hynek had received death threats after the station broadcast a programme in July saying the firm was importing fertiliser from Russia but pretending it was from the United States. The firm's officials were accused of blackmail and face up to eight years in prison.

Harassment and obstruction

Petr Hanousek, of the public TV station CT, resigned on 7 November 2003 in protest against pressure by politicians on public sector journalists. After a satirical programme on 24 October in which he likened members of parliament to termites, some MPs publicly threatened to block a bill to increase the TV licence fee, which was strongly supported by the station. In early November, parliament's media committee rejected the proposal, calling for a reorganisation of CT first.


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