I’m home battling the flu, but wanted to put this story from today’s Lidovky.cz on your radar. The translation is mine.

Man goes to prison over website comments

Petr Partyk criticized a city bureaucrat on a web discussion forum, and now faces prison over it. What’s more, he says the comments were written by someone else. It looks absurd, but according to a decision by the Prague 7 district court he could be in prison for 75 days for libel.

In 2000, Partyk was unhappy that the head of the Prague 7 construction administration, Jiří Chour, approved the addition of two stories on to the building Partyk lived in, overriding the recommendations of conservationists. Partyk spoke with Chour several times, and finally sent this comment to the city hall’s web forum:

“The debate of course became perverted, and completely foreign people wrote things under my name, including comments like ‘Ing. Chour is defending the policies of his wallet,” Partyk says. At the same time, city hall started receiving pornographic e-mails.

“I’m going to prison for something I didn’t write. It was enough for the judge to have my name under the text,” Partyk says, adding that he did not send any pornography. “The court expert did not evaluate whether or not it was me who sent the comments. He only looked into e-mail communications, but that is something else,” the man continues. The court expert did not come to a clear conclusion in the case of the e-mails either. “It cannot be clearly determined whether the e-mails came from the computer of the accused,” the expert said.

In 2001 Partyk was sentenced to 200 hours of public service, which the appeals court decreased by 50 hours. Partyk refused to back down because of his convictions, and Judge Šídlo sentenced him instead to a 75-day prison sentence.

Partyk will become one of the few people to go behind bars for libel. In the last seven years, Czech courts have only referred to the law’s paragraphs on libel in two cases.

A unified opinion on the punishment of “verbal crimes” does not exist. A majority of democratic countries have abandoned the practice of punishing speech, especially when it comes to public servants or politicians. Judge Šídlo of course has a different opinion. “Criticism of such people must have its limits,” he explains.