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Czech Jews Shocked As Conviction of ‘mein Kampf’ Publisher Overturned

Czech Jewish leaders are dismayed that the country’s Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a publisher of “Mein Kampf.”After publishing thousands of copies of Hitler’s anti-Semitic text in Czech without footnotes or disclaimers, Michal Zitko was fined about $60,000 last year for “supporting and promoting a movement aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms.” The conviction was upheld on appeal at the beginning of 2002.

But the Czech Supreme Court has returned the case to prosecutors, saying Zitko could not have promoted Nazism because a movement has to exist at the time when a suspected crime is committed. The court’s public relations office was not available for comment. Zitko’s defense lawyer, Tomas Sokol, welcomed the ruling.

“It was not proved that there existed a movement which would be promoted or supported by the publication of this book,” he said.

The ruling shocked Czech Jewish groups and politicians. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross called it “shocking and crazy,” while Justice Minister Pavel Rychetsky said the decision had been “made in haste.”

The Czech Federation of Jewish Communities said it is “very disappointed.”

“It is obvious that this is an incredible mistake,” said the federation’s executive director, Tomas Kraus. “We can only hope that this is a mistake and there’s not something else behind it which we can only speculate about.”

Kraus said he would ask the justice minister to push for the law to be tightened.

“The wording of the law is just too vague,” said Kraus, a former lawyer. “If the criminal code had said ‘promoting Nazism, fascism or similar movements aimed at suppressing human rights or freedoms,’ there would not have been a problem.”

Rychetsky played down press speculation that the ruling could make it difficult to prosecute anyone indulging in neo-Nazi activity. He said promoting Nazism remains a criminal offense and that the court ruling did not set a legal precedent.

“Were someone to say that the gas chambers were a good thing, that would still be punishable by the law,” Rychetsky said.

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