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 (Criminal Code Art. 184) 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 or a fine.
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 practicing a certain profession.
Note also that under Criminal Code Art. 355, 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.
Criminal Defamation of Public Officials
Criminal Defamation of the Head of State
Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols
Criminal Defamation of Foreign Heads of State
Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols
Criminal Defamation of the Deceased
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 (group defamation), 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).
Criminal Defamation and 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 confirmed (Decision II.ÚS 2042/12) 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 one-and-a-half-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.
The protection of personal rights in the Czech Republic is regulated in the general provisions of Arts. 81 – 117 of the new Czech Civil Code. Code extends specific protection to , among among other rights, the right to life, dignity, health, esteem, honour and privacy.
Provisions related to remedies for the violation of rights are found in Arts. 2951 – 2971. Three conditions need to be met in order for a person to be held liable for the violation of rights: first, the existence of unjustified infringement capable of causing moral damage; second, the existence of moral damage suffered by a natural person: and third, a causal connection between the infringement and the damage suffered. If even one of these conditions is not met, there is no liability under the Civil Code.
Previous Czech civil law established moral satisfaction (e.g., an apology) as the primary remeded, with financial compensation only being awarded if other remedies were not satisfactory. The new Civil Code provides that monetary satisfaction must be provided unless other remedies can offer real and sufficiently effective satisfaction.
The new Civil Code does not provide a complete list of what may constitute moral satisfaction. However, the Code does detail the conditions that courts must consider when assessing the adequacy of damages. Notably, although the Code does not expressly state so, these conditions in practice allow for aggravated damages. According to the Code, courts must take into account the plaintiff’s intent to cause harm, such as by trickery, threat or abuse of the victim’s dependance; or by multiplying the effects of the interference by making it publicly known or through discriminating against the victim with regard to the victim’s sex, health condition, ethnicity, belief, etc. Courts must also consider the victims’s loss of life or serious damage to health.
Determination of the amount of damages
As noted above, the Czech Civil Code protects various rights, including the rights to life, dignity, health, esteem, honour and privacy. The Code provides a taxative listing of such rights, but the terms used are vague enough to allow the courts to subordinate various types of violations under them. Unfortunately, the Code does not include here provisions on counterbalancing rights such as freedom of expression and information. As a result, the protection of rights can be excessive, including through the use of preliminary injunctions that achieve the purpose of a chilling effect.
In terms of assessing the amount of damages, Art. 136 of the Civil Procedure Act allows courts to award an amount based on their consideration of the case. This procedure should be scrutinised. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) states that national courts must provide a corrective against disproportionate damages and the abuse of civil lawsuits that can create a chilling effect on the media and/or lead the closure of media outlets. This corrective is the concept of “proportionality”, a concept that is missing in many Czech court judgments or that is interpreted in vague and various ways, leading to disunity, fragmentation and unpredictability. The new Civil Code introduced the concept of the “principle of decency”, which is similar to the proportionality standard for measuring excessive compensation. Where the threshold of “decency” lies is up to individual determination. Due to its vaguess, it is questionable whether this standard can serve as an effective safeguard against abuse.
Czech law contains standards of the amount of compensation that can be awarded in cases of damage to health and life, but no so such standards exist for damage to reputation and other personality rights. Judges do not compare amounts awarded in personality rights cases with those awarded in other types, such as right-to-life cases. Attempts to do so in the past were unsuccessful.
Prior to 2014, and especially in the years 2011 and 2012, Czech courts, including the Constitutional Court, awarded huge amounts in damages – up to 1 million CZK (approx. €38,000) – for infringement of rights by tabloid media in particular. These rulings, however, are exceptional, and in general free expression is well-protected. Politicians in particular do not receive such high compensation.
Since 2014, when the new Civil Code and the new Civil Procedure Code took effect, the newly established district courts typically do not award compensation greater than 100,000 CZK (approx. €3,800). That being said, case law is not fully built, as appeals are still pending and there is no public database of decisions issued by lower courts.
To research the amount of compensation awarded in civil defamation cases, 15 civil defamation cases involving the media between 2010 and 2016 considered representative of trends were collected and analysed. The average amount of compensation awarded was 249,000 CZK (€9,000). Two judgments awarded compensation of 1,000,000 CZK or more.
See the list of cases reviewed.
Information on civil defamation laws in the Czech Republic was compiled by JUDr. Eva Ondřejová, LL.M., Ph.D.
Recent Legal Changes
In late 2016, it was reported that Czech lawmakers were considering a bill that would criminalise defamation of the president. The OSCE RFoM responded: “This draft amendment would allow prosecution of critics of the president and poses a threat to freedom of expression and media freedom in the country,” she said. “The bill also contains a broad definition of what constitutes defamation of the president and denigration of his reputation.”
Notes and Acknowledgements
Information for the Czech Republic was originally collected by IPI as part of the “Out of Balance” report, published in January 2015 with support from the European Commission and incorporating research contributed by Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and by the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. This entry was later expanded and updated by IPI as part of a study commissioned by the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
A fully footnoted version of this entry is available in the OSCE study. This entry was last updated in March 2017.
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 info(at)ipi.media.