CPJ denounces threat by prime minister to bankrupt independent weekly

New York, October 24, 2001–The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has denounced Prime Minister Milos Zeman for threatening to bankrupt the independent Prague-based weekly Respekt with a series of debilitating lawsuits in retaliation for its criticism of his government.

Zeman announced on October 22 that his government was planning to file the suits against Respekt and its editor-in-chief, Petr Holub, after he wrote an article calling the ruling Social Democrat (CSSD) government corrupt, CTK news agency reported.

“Prime Minister Zeman must understand that criticism of government officials is at the very heart of democratic debate, and therefore the lawsuits are wholly inappropriate in the Czech Republic,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We call on the prime minister to drop the suits immediately.”

Prime minister “allergic” to criticism
The prime minister told a group of journalists on Monday that his cabinet members would file separate complaints against Holub demanding financial compensation “so that Respekt finally ceases to exist.”

Zeman valued the reputations of his 17 cabinet ministers at 10 million crowns (US $270,000) each, implying that his government would seek 170 million crowns (US $4.5 million) in damages from the weekly.

He went on to say that he wanted an “equality-based partnership to reign between the government and the press” but added that journalists should not be surprised by his cabinet’s “allergic” reaction to lies.

Respekt has often reported on scandals and conflicts of interest within the CSSD.

CPJ will continue to monitor this case closely.