Activists Paint Red Line In Front of Ministry of Justice To Protest Minister’s Conflicts of Interest
Recently, Blazek has faced criticism over his requests for information into the cases of flat trafficking in Brno. Photo credit: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec / Milion chvilek pro demokracii, via Facebook.
Prague, March 28 (CTK) – The Million Moments for democracy group have painted a red line in front of the Justice Ministry, which activists say symbolically marks the “democratic area” that Justice Minister Pavel Blazek (ODS) is crossing with his conflicts of interests.
Besides the line painted on the ground, the group also held a banner in front of the Ministry saying “Do not cross the red line.”
Recently, Blazek has faced criticism over his requests for information into the cases of flat trafficking in Brno. The Million Moments group argues that Blazek threatens public trust in politicians, and has written open letters to both Blazek and PM Petr Fiala (ODS), calling on Blazek to resign or Fiala to sack him.
In response, Blazek told CTK that the Million Moments group was working with false information, and that he planned to respond with an open letter of his own.
The Ministry of Justice also released the answers to questions asked by MPs during a question session in the Chamber of Deputies.
Ministry spokesman Vladimir Repka noted that when the ministry answers questions from MPs, it requests cooperation from judges and prosecutors, which has been an established practice for several years. Previously, Blazek also said he had received several questions from MPs of different political parties regarding the Brno case.
In early March, Fiala said he saw no reason to sack Blazek, arguing that the minister had acted in compliance with his duties when he asked for the information.
Representatives of the Million Moments group argue that the members of the government coalition, comprising ODS, TOP 09, the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), Mayors and Independents (STAN) and the Pirates, are downplaying Blazek’s conflict of interests.
Million moments spokeswoman Hana Strasakova told CTK that the group suspected Blazek of trying to influence the Czech judicial system and judges. She also pointed out that before Blazek took up his position, the group had written several letters to Fiala asking him not to appoint Blazek as Justice Minister.
The group further linked ministerial conflicts of interest and the government’s poor attitude to citizens as a contributing factor to Czechs aligning with populist and extremist movements.
Prior to moving into national politics, Blazek was for several years the coordinator for ODS in Brno, where he earned the nickname “Don Pablo” following multiple allegations of conflict of interest and back-room dealing. His appointment as Justice Minister in Fiala’s cabinet was said to have met with initial opposition from the Pirate Party.
According to Seznam Zpravy, in the past month Blazek addressed four requests for information to public prosecutors in connection with the Brno flat trafficking case, in which acquaintances of Blazek are implicated. These requests were addressed to Supreme Prosecutor Igor Striz and also to the high state attorney in Olomouc.
Striz told Seznam Zpravy and Denik N that he considered Blazek’s requests unfortunate. The public prosecutors’ association commented on them similarly.
Blazek denied any conflict of interest on his part. According to Transparency International, Blazek’s requests for information may be an attempt to disrupt the investigation.
Seznam Zpravy reported that Blazek had also requested the names of the judges who had decided to remand the suspects in custody and given the orders to search premises.
Blazek has written on Twitter that this is a common and legal procedure of handling complaints.
Last autumn, the police repeatedly intervened over suspected misconduct in the allocation of municipal flats and other property in Brno. In early October, they accused eight people, including ODS politician Otakar Bradac, of suspicious privatisation of municipal flats by the Brno-Stred District Town Hall. In mid-October, the police arrested a group of people under suspicion of attempting to take control of a local sand quarry.
The Million moments group organised a series of protests over the appointment of Marie Benesova as Justice Minister, replacing Jan Knezinek who had resigned in April 2019. This happened at the time when prosecutors were proposing a lawsuit in the Capi Hnizdo (Stork Nest) case, which involved then PM Andrej Babis (ANO).
Over 250,000 people attended each of the two biggest such protests, at Prague’s Letna plain in June and November 2019.
The group also held protests against Benesova in 2021 over the departure of Supreme Prosecutor Pavel Zeman from office. He stated that one of the reasons for his departure was pressure from Benesova.