Czech Republic: High Treason or Just Constitutional Nudging?

The Czech President Václav Klaus has left office last Thursday (March 7) after a decade when his second term expired. Three days earlier, on March 4, he was indicted for high treason by the Senate, the second chamber of the Czech parliament. One might think this is just another scene from “Leaving”, the last absurdist play written by Klaus’s predecessor Václav Havel. It is not, however; and the proceeding before the Constitutional Court is pending.

The Current Constitution of the Czech Republic (adopted in 1992) largely draws on democratic traditions of the interwar parliamentary regime in former Czechoslovakia. The provisions of the Constitution saying that the President of the Republic “shall not be responsible for the performance of his duties” (Art. 54), with the sole exception of the “high treason” (Art. 65) for which he may get impeached, were clearly inspired by 1920 Constitution. However, a major distinction was made. The 1920 Constitution provided for a special procedure of prosecution of the President, but the high treason (in Czech: “velezrada”) itself was a general crime established and defined by the Criminal Act. On the contrary, the 1992 Constitution has intentionally established the high treason as a special constitutional offence which can only be committed by the President. Therefore, the Czech law nowadays distinguishes between treason (“vlastizrada”) and high treason (“velezrada”), which are of as vastly different substance as similar they sound.

The former is a crime for which any Czech citizen “who is in contact with a foreign power or a foreign agent and commits the crime of subversion of the Republic, terrorist attack, terror or sabotage shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of from fifteen to twenty years” ...

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