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Zeman rejects internet censorship in reaction to ministry’s plan

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Lany, Central Bohemia, Dec 26 (CTK) – Czech President Milos Zeman rejected any attempts to apply censorship to the Internet in his Christmas speech on Monday and said he does not wish the Interior Ministry to become a modern Konias, probably in reaction to a new unit for fighting disinformation in cyber space.

The ministry reacted saying that the unit, which will start operation in January, will not apply censorship to either the media or the Internet.

Konias (1691-1760), a Czech priest, preacher and religious author, was an infamous protagonist of censorship, including the spectacular burning of “heretic” non-Catholic books, which the Jesuit Order practiced within its Catholic missionary efforts in the Czech Lands.

Some historians consider this portrait of Konias, mainly promoted by the early 20th-century historical fiction author Alois Jirasek, as exaggerated and unilateral.

Zeman said the Czech Republic does not need censorship or ideological police.

Censorship has been practiced by those who are short of arguments, he said.

“We previously thoroughly informed the president via his office about the ongoing National Security Audit, on the basis of which a new centre will be established,” the ministry’s spokeswoman Lenka Novakova told CTK.

She said Interior Minister Milan Chovanec (Social Democrats, CSSD) has ordered that a document about the planned Centre Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats be immediately sent to Zeman so that he can acquaint himself with the centre’s tasks and work.

The unit challenged by Zeman will be a part of the above centre for fighting terrorism, hybrid threats and propaganda to start operating as from January 1 in reaction to terrorist attacks in Europe.

Chovanec previously said it will be a small team of about 20 employees. It is to forward information to the police, miliary and intelligence services.

Its tasks will include the assessment of offices and officials’ “resistance” to disinformation, and the preparation of a model way for the public to be provided with true information irrespective of propaganda.

One section of the centre will specialise in detecting disinformation in open sources, including social networks, and their refuting. People should gain true information within a few minutes or hours at the most.

Similar groups are later to be also established at other ministers, with the Government Office supervising their coordination.

“I know that attempts to apply censorship to the Internet appear in connection with the international tension now and then. I am resolutely against censorship, except for pornography, mainly child pornography,” Zeman said.

He who prevents others from voicing their arguments only proves that he does not have enough arguments himself, Zeman said, adding that this is why he does not wish the Interior Ministry to become “a modern Konias.”

The ministry previously wrote on its website that the new centre will not control “any button to switch off the Internet,” nor will it force the truth upon people or apply censorship.

In reaction to Zeman’s words, Internet expert Daniel Docekal said Zeman and his spokesman Jiri Ovcacek tend to often cite disinformation websites and dubious information sources.

“That is why it is quite understandable why he minds it so much if someone tries to highlight the huge and problematic sources of disinformation, propaganda, manipulation and lies,” Docekal said.

He said Zeman is right when saying that there is no need of censorship. “However, we badly need to put an end to the flood of disinformation and lies. The president could contribute to this by trying to provide only verified information and ceasing, he or his spokesman, to be a mouthpiece of disinformation webs,” Docekal said.

Zeman also criticised the emergence of a list of disinformation Internet sites under the aegis of the Evropske hodnoty (European Values) Czech think-tank.

“We do not need censorship, we do not need ideological police,” Zeman said.

European Values director Radko Hokovsky called Zeman’s words very misleading.

“We don’t seek any censorship, we only highlight the disinformation projects that have systematically manipulated the public. We seek neither their silencing nor banning,” Hokovsky said.

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