Prague - The current effort of Czech lawmakers to curtail press freedom in the country could be barred by the Constitutional Court.
A group of senators have launched collecting signatures in the Senate to file a complaint with the ConCourt against the controversial amendment to the Penal Code that was vetoed by Senate but passed by the lower house of parliament.
Now if signed by the president, the new bill would outlaw publishing police wiretaps and journalists who would make the recordings public would face heavy sanctions and in some cases prison sentences.
In the past, transcripts of recordings of phone calls intercepted by the police served to medialize cases of corruption among Czech politicians and/or their links to the mafia underworld.
Counter-action by senators and Green Party
One of the senators engaged in the issue Jiří Oberfalzer told Aktuálně.cz that the senators would lodge a complaint with the Constitutional Court only if president Václav Klaus signs the bill into force.
"We are cooperating with the senators who have to gather 17 signatures to file the case at the Constitutional Court," Green Party vice-chairwoman Kateřina Jacques told Aktuálně.cz.
"We would have done it ourselves [the Green Party] but we would never get 41 signatures of MPs required to file the complain," Jacques added. She is one of the few who voted against the bill.
The wiretap ban publication was supported by 129 out of 161 MPs from all parties except the Communist Party (KSČM).
Sneaking in an extra clause
If the senators collect the required number of signatures, the Constitutional Court will look on whether outlawing publication of the police wiretaps does not infringe press freedom and freedom of speech.
The Green Party is simultanously drafting their own amendment that would renew publishing of the recordings.
"We will present it [their own amendment] in case president signs the current bill," said Jacques.
The bill was initiated by Civic Democrat MP Marek Benda based on a so called Kuřim case.
The medialization of the unprecedented child abuse case led Czech MPs to draft a Penal Code amendment that would protect abused children from the media. But Czech lawmakers included the ban of publication of police wiretaps along with the child protection.
Leaked wiretaps play an important role in investigative journalism, not only in the Czech Republic. Aktuálně.cz had published a number of transcripts of leaked police wiretaps in the past to uncover graft.
The bill sparked criticism among Czech journalists as well as with the Syndicate of Journalists that has urged president Klaus not to sign the bill into law.