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Court Releases Czech Teacher Who Denied the Russian War Crimes

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Czech language teacher Martina Bednářová, who had been charged with denying Russian war crimes in Ukraine, was acquitted by the court today. The judge ruled that her actions did not constitute a crime. However, the verdict is not final as the prosecutor immediately filed an appeal. Bednářová maintains her innocence and defends herself by claiming that her remarks were made during a media literacy lesson at a Prague primary school, following instructions from the Education Ministry. She argues that the media misrepresented the situation in Ukraine.

Judge Klára Jantošová of the District Court for Prague 6 stated, “The statements made by the defendant clearly reflect her personal views, attitudes, and perception of history and reality, which are protected as her opinion. The defendant cannot be prosecuted for expressing her opinion.” The judge acknowledged that Bednářová used inappropriate methods and means to influence and persuade her students, but highlighted the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. She also invoked the principle of ultima ratio, which dictates that criminal law should be used only when other legal means are insufficient. The judge noted that Bednářová had already faced consequences as she had been dismissed from her teaching position by Na Dlouhém lán Primary School following the incident.

State prosecutor Richard Petrásek demanded an eight-month probationary sentence for Bednářová and a five-year ban on teaching, educating, or working with children. He argued that the teacher had chosen an inappropriate setting and audience to express her opinion. Petrásek stated that her dismissal from her job was not a sufficient punishment, emphasizing the social harm caused by her actions as a teacher. He noted that if Bednářová had expressed her views in a pub or in a forum designated for such opinions, her freedom of speech would have been more respected.

However, the judge determined that Bednářová’s statements did not reach the level of denying, questioning, approving, or justifying genocide, which are elements of the crime she was charged with. The court described her opinions as a mixture of true statements based on historical events, false claims, distorted historical facts, and unverifiable information. The judge stated that there was no explicit denial, impeachment, or attempt to justify war crimes or crimes against peace in Bednářová’s speech or subsequent discussion.

The topic of Russia and Ukraine was addressed by Bednářová in her class on April 5, 2022, a few weeks after the start of the Russian invasion. The indictment accused her of attempting to justify war crimes against peace by claiming that it was an understandable response from the Russians. She allegedly told her eighth-grade students that nothing significant was happening in Kiev, dismissing the footage shown on Czech television as biased. Bednářová also made claims that Ukrainian Nazi groups had systematically exterminated Russians, including children, through gruesome methods. Some students contradicted her and recorded her explanations.

Bednářová declined to comment on the verdict to the present journalists, suggesting they were not from independent media. She simply urged them to congratulate her. Currently, she is registered with the Labour Office and pursuing a lawsuit over her dismissal. In the labor dispute, the court sided with the school, but Bednářová has appealed the decision. Supporters of Bednářová, including individuals such as Josef Skála and Jindřich Rajchl, have initiated a fundraiser to aid her cause. The campaign has received substantial contributions and messages of encouragement, characterizing her as a courageous victim of totalitarian suppression.

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