Defamation remains a criminal offence in the Czech Republic.
A new Czech Criminal Code entered into force in 2009. It contains only one defamation-related offence.
Defamation (Art. 184, pomluva) is defined as communicating false information that can seriously endanger another person’s respect among his fellow citizens, in particular damaging his position in employment, and relations with his family, or causing him some other serious harm. Under Art. 184, it is punished with imprisonment for up to one year (note on a certain profession.
Criminal Defamation of Public Officials
Criminal Defamation of the Head of State
Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols
Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols
Criminal Defamation of the Deceased
Other Relevant Criminal Offences
Art. 355 of the Czech Criminal Code provides that public defamation of a nation, its language, any race or ethnic group, or a group of people based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, nationality, political opinion, religion or because they are actually or supposedly non-denominational, is punishable with imprisonment for up to two years. If the act is committed through the press, film, radio, television, publicly accessible computer network or other similarly effective manner, the punishment shall be imprisonment for up to three years.
In the Czech criminal law system, prosecutions can only be undertaken by the state. Investigations and prosecutions can be initiated upon complaint by the victim (in which case the police decides whether to pursue the case or not) or at the initiative of the police/prosecutor.
Statistics on Application
The following are official data on criminal convictions for the year 2014 from the statistics portal of the Czech Ministry of Justice. The statistics are divided between convictions under the current Czech Criminal Code (entry into force: 2009) and the previous criminal code.
- For Art. 184 (defamation) under the current criminal code, there were 23 convictions, resulting in 22 suspended prison sentences, and 1 sentence of community service.
- For Art. 206 (defamation) under the previous criminal code, there were 16 convictions, resulting in 14 suspended prison sentences, 1 sentence of community service and 1 remitted sentence.
- Total for 2014: 39 convictions for criminal defamation, resulting in 36 suspended prison sentences, 2 sentences of community service, and 1 remitted sentence.
Statistics for the year 2013:
- For Art. 184 (defamation) under the current criminal code, there were 15 convictions, resulting in 1 unconditional prison sentence (of less than 1 year), 13 suspended prison sentences, and 1 sentence of community service.
- For Art. 206 (defamation) under the previous criminal code, there were 17 convictions, resulting in 1 unconditional prison sentence (of between 1-5 years), 14 suspended prison sentences, 1 criminal fine, and 1 sentence of community service.
- Total for 2013: 32 convictions, resulting in 2 unconditional prison sentences, 27 suspended prison sentences, 1 criminal fine, and 2 sentences of community service.
In terms of Art. 355 of the Criminal Code, noted above under “Other Relevant Criminal Offences”, in 2013 there were 45 convictions, resulting in 36 suspended prison sentences, 7 sentences of community service, and two remitted sentences. In 2014, there were 23 convictions, resulting in 1 unconditional prison sentence (of between 1 and 5 years), 13 suspended prison sentences, and two sentences of community service (7 cases had alternative outcomes).
There is no specific civil law regulating defamation. Rather particular provisions under the and the 2000 (tiskový zákon) apply. Civil claims can be pursued separately or together with criminal proceedings.
Art. 17 of the of the Czech Republic guarantees the rights to free expression and information and states that these rights may only be limited as necessary in a democratic society “for protecting the rights and freedoms of others, the security of the State, public security, public health, and morals”.
The Civil Code of Czech Republic in Art. 3, par. 2 states that everyone has the right to protect their life and health, as well as freedom, honor, dignity and privacy. Defamation is not explicitly mentioned under the new law, but protection is awarded to a person’s honour under the basic rights of the person (Art. 3) and specified rights of personality (Arts. 81-90). A person whose personal rights have been affected has the right to claim that there was unauthorized interference or to remove its effects. If a person has deceased, the protection can be sought by any of the persons close to him (Art, 82, par. 2). If personal rights of a physical person were affected in connection with his/her position in a legal entity, the legal entity can defend if he/she agrees – his/her rights on his/her behalf according to Art. 83, par. 1.
In addition, Art. 612 of Civil Code prescribes that in the case of the right to life and dignity, name, health, esteem, honor, privacy or personal rights of similar, a person has a right to be redressed for injury of those rights.
There are no caps on non-pecuniary damages for defamation in Czech law.
Art. 2951 of the Civil Code provides that in the case of non-pecuniary harm to one’s rights, if a non-monetary remedy (such as apology) is insufficient, monetary compensation (non-pecuniary damages) can be awarded. Under Art. 2957, the amount of non-pecuniary damages for harm to personality rights is to be awarded taking into account the specific circumstances of the sitaution, including any aggravation factors.
A new provision (Art. 2971) now allows that in the case of damage to personality rights, depending on malice or the severity of the harm, relatives of the victim may also sue for damages.
Media Cases and Case Law
In its ruling, the Constitutional Court made several key statements on the balance between the right to free expression and the right to honour, underscoring that, in its view, both of these rights were critical for proper functioning of a democratic socidty. On the one hand, “the fundamental right to freedom of expression must be considered a constitutive element of a democratic, pluralistic society, in which everyone is permitted to express his opinion on public matters and to make evaluative judgments about them”; on the other hand, the “the protection of reputation or honour must be seen as protection of a public good” and not simply a matter “only for the affected individual or his family.” The Court suggested, for example, that honour “forms the basis of many decisions made my [sic] members of a democratic society, which are fundamental for it to function well”, so as in business relations or in voting and thus that society had an interest in protecting the “accuracy” [not the court’s term] of reputations.
In the Court’s view, “The fundamental right to honor is exercised in multiple spheres: the private sphere, the societal, civil and professional spheres; the last three can be described as the social sphere.” The private sphere, for the Court, “is usually governed by self-determination as regards information,” that is, the the individual can decide what and how information is released to the “outside world.”
By contrast, for the social spheres, “we cannot insist upon complete self-determination regarding information”, and the right to reputation can be limited “for purposes of protecting the interests of society” or in cases in which there is a clash with other constitutional rights (e.g., the right to free expression). In the case of such a clash, the constitutional values are to be weighed against each other both “generally and specifically applied in the matter and standing in opposition to each other.”
Defence of fair comment
In light of the above, in its decision the Court held firmly that, with regard to the right to freedom of expression as a “constitutive element of a democratic, pluralistic society,” each person “is permitted to express his opinion on public matters and to make evaluative judgments about them.”
The Court defined public matters as “[a[ll the agendas of state institutions, as well as the activity of persons active in public life, e.g. the activity of local and national politicians, officials, judges, attorneys, or candidates or trainees for these offices are a public matter; of course, the arts, including journalistic activities and show business, and everything which attracts public attention.”
Significantly, the Court stated that “criticism of public matters carried out by publicly active persons is subject to the presumption that the criticism is constitutional”, i.e. that fair comment on a public matter enjoys a presumption in favour of admissibility. The Court explicitly recognised the journalists are “publicly active persons”.
However, the Court noted that critical opinions are still “subject to a test under the principle of proportionality.” Specifically, it stated:
“As regards the evaluative judgments, including exaggeration and hyperbole, even if they were harsh, they are not in and of themselves a non-permitted expression. Even the unsuitability of the critic’s opinion, in terms of logic or the prejudice of the critic do not, by themselves, permit the conclusion that the critic went beyond the bounds of expression that can be described as appropriate. Only in the case of criticism of matters of actions by public persons which completely lacks a substantive basis, and for which no justification can be found, is it necessary to consider such criticism disproportionate. It is always necessary to evaluate the entire expression made in a literary, reporting, or other format; one can never judge a single expression or sentence taken out of context.”
Defence of reasonable publication
For the Court, the right to criticism on public matters includes, generally speaking, assertions of fact. However, the “presumption of constitutionality”, as mentioned above, only applies to value judgments and not to any factual claims. Here, defendants prove “must prove the truthfulness of facts claimed in the critical statement”.
However, in its ruling the Court also explicitly recognises a defence of reasonable publication for defamatory assertions of fact, as long as the defendant “had reasonable grounds for relying on the truthfulness of the defamatory information which he disseminated” or can prove “that he took proper available steps to verify the truthfulness of that information, to a degree and in an intensity in which it was possible for him to verify the information” and “had no grounds to believe that the information was untrue.”
The Court also stated that “for evaluation of legitimacy of publishing information it is important to examine the motive for its publication. It can not be concluded that publication of information was legitimate if the dominant motive for it was the desire to damage the defamed person.”
The Court added, “The publication of such information also can not be considered reasonable if the disseminator of the information does not verify its truthfulness by inquiring of the person whom the information concerns, and does not also publish that person’s position, with the exception where such steps are impossible or evidently unnecessary”.
In the text of its ruling, the Court emphasised that factual assertions “ must always be evaluated comprehensively, from many points of view” and adopted a 10-point test that mirrored the Reynolds Defence.
Recent examples of cases involving the media
In general, criminal libel cases against journalists are uncommon in the Czech Republic, as most offended parties will press civil claims instead.
However, in 2012, the Constitutional Court the criminal defamation conviction of a journalist working for the tabloid newspaper Blesk (“Flash”). In 2008, the journalist had covered the brutal murder of a woman and her 1.5-year old child in the small town of Luh nad Svatavou, near the German border. The alleged killer had hung himself in the woman’s home. In his article, the journalist reported that , based on information he had obtained about the crime scene, the woman had had sex before being killed. The woman’s husband brought charges for defamation, claiming that the article insinuated that the alleged sexual encounter between the woman and her murderer was consensual. The sentenced upheld by the Constitutional Court ordered the journalist to pay a fine of 80,000 Czech crowns; in the case of non-payment the Court specified that the journalist would be sent to prison for three months. Although the newspaper ultimately paid the fine on the journalist’s behalf, it was noted that the latter’s monthly salary was 20,000 crowns.
Recent Legal Changes
No relevant known changes.
Legal Sources and Acknowledgements
Information on defamation laws in Europe was collected by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the School of Public Policy’s Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and their partners at the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. (Read more about our partners here.)
The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at ipi[at]freemedia.at.
Information on the Czech Republic was last updated in January 2015.
When defamation is committed through the press, film, television, publicly available computer networks or other similar media, the potential maximum punishment is increased to imprisonment for up to two years. A person may also be prohibited from Prohibition of specific activity is usually used in connection to state-licensed activities (such as driving with a state-issued driving license). Currently, only electronic media are licensed by the state in the Czech Republic.