COVID-19 Updates

Coronavirus could mean early release for many prison inmates

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Defense lawyer Petr Toman has proposed that Czech President Milos Zeman declare amnesty over the novel coronavirus pandemic in a letter he sent to Zeman on Thursday, the Advokatni denik journal reported today.

Justice Minister Marie Benesova (for ANO) wrote to CTK that she was dealing with this issue. However, her office has dismissed the speculations about preparing amnesty currently.

Zeman’s spokesman Jiri Ovcacek refused to react to CTK’s questions on the issue.

“Please, take your powers in this respect into consideration to ease the current problems of the families whose members are serving prison sentences for less serious offenses and cannot look after them and help them in these hard times,” Toman wrote in his letter.

He said the goal of such amnesty would not be a mass release of all prisoners, but only of those with the lowest sentences.

He, for instance, proposed that Zeman pardon prison terms of the people convicted of wilful crimes and given under one year in prison and of crimes out of negligence with up to a two-year prison sentence. Zeman could also pardon some suspended sentences, penalties, house arrest, and community works.

Moreover, Zeman could task Benesova to submit proposals for halting criminal prosecution and pardoning or softening sentences for some other people to whom the amnesty would not apply, for instance, pregnant women, people looking after children or elderly parents and convicts suffering from serious diseases, Toman said.

However, the Justice Ministry categorically denied preparing any mass release of prisoners for the moment, its spokesman Vladimir Repka wrote.

The Czech Republic is among the countries with the highest number of prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants – it was almost 209 in 2018.

“At present, a total of 21,135 people are imprisoned in the Czech Republic, including 19,070 convicts and 1,772 in custody. Some 1,500 convicts are serving prison sentences for not paying child maintenance,” Toman said.

Czech convicts are also serving the highest average prison sentence, Toman warned.

Amnesty has been declared in the country five times since 1990, following the collapse of the communist regime.

Zeman’s post-communist predecessors, Vaclav Havel (1989-2003) and Vaclav Klaus (2003-2013) declared amnesties.

Havel signed the so far most extensive amnesty in the country valid on January 1, 1990. He also declared another amnesty that applied to illegal possession of arms only in February of the same year, and another two followed in 1993 and 1998.

Klaus signed an amnesty at the end of his presidency in 2013, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Czech Republic’s establishment.

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