Possession of child porn remains legal in the Czech Republic as officials weigh adult liberty against the need to protect children
Lawmakers are trying to ban possession of child pornography for the second time this year, over the objections of politicians who say the ban could be used to entrap innocent people.
The Czech Republic is one of four European Union countries where it is legal to own videos and images of children being sexually abused, according to the U.S.-based International Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Latvia, Portugal and Slovenia are the other three.
As a result, when a major Austrian sting in February busted thousands of people involved in a pan-European child pornography ring, 63 Czech customers were immune from prosecution.
Later that month, the Justice Ministry proposed an amendment to the Criminal Code that would ban possession of child pornography. It is already illegal here to produce or distribute child porn.
The amended law easily passed the lower house, but was rejected by the Senate in July by a vote of 32 to 22.
Senate Chairman Přemysl Sobotka, a Civic Democrat, spearheaded the opposition.
“I am worried about children, and also I am very concerned about personal freedom,” Sobotka tells The Prague Post. “The law can be abused politically or personally.”
Sobotka says he worries child pornography can be sent to personal or political enemies to get them in trouble with the law, though countries where such material is illegal have not generally seen such problems.
“But this doesn’t mean that just because there hasn’t been a problem somewhere else, it couldn’t happen here,” Sobotka says.
This concern for adult liberty at the expense of children is “absolutely disgraceful,” says Marie Vodičková, director of the Fund for Children in Need and a former prosecutor.
“Technically, I cannot imagine how it could be abused. And, even if there were a case like that, I think there would be no cases of unlawful conviction,” she says.
“Those children who are abused suffer a million times more than someone [who is innocent] who could possibly get into trouble. … I think this country is unfriendly to children. Unfortunately, in many cases here it seems adults are taken as more important than children.”
Kateřina Konečná, the Communist MP who is sponsoring the bill in the lower house, agrees that concerns about wrongful convictions are illogical.
“It is not possible because … there is a very clear definition of the term ‘the possession of child porn’ and what child porn actually is. If the courts accept this definition, there cannot appear a situation where somebody innocent is charged,” she says.
The lower house is expected to try to override the Senate’s vote toward the end of the month, according to Konečná. If members succeed, the law would be sent to President Václav Klaus to sign or veto.
Not only would the law help Czech children, it would add to the international effort to crack down on the global industry, Konečná says.
“I think the Czech Republic has to do something about the huge increase of child porn on the Internet not only here, but in the whole of Europe, and our duty is to protect the kids,” Konečná says.
The International Center for Missing and Exploited Children says all countries need to include five aspects in any law designed to fight child porn. An effective law spells out a definition of child pornography, criminalizes computer-facilitated offenses, criminalizes possession of child pornography regardless of the intent to distribute, and requires Internet service providers to report suspected websites to authorities.
Only Australia, Belgium, France, South Africa and the United States currently meet all five criteria, according to the group’s Web site. Furthermore, 95 countries have no laws that specifically deal with child porn.
“Criminalizing simple possession of child pornography may not only curb industry growth but also prevent further incidences of child abuse,” the site states.
Czech laws need to fall in line with European laws when it comes to child pornography, Konečná says.
“I think this country has a big debt in this issue, and we have to pay that debt. Many international agreements require us to have this bill,” she adds.
Among those agreements is the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Czech Republic signed in January 2005 but still has not ratified. The document requires countries that sign to have laws banning possession of child pornography.
Konečná says her membership in the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia may hurt the chances of the bill succeeding since it holds a minority of the total Parliament members. But she says she thinks her colleagues’ concern for children will be more important than “the color of our party membership card.”
— Hela Balínová and Naďa Černá contributed to this report.