Capital punishment in the Czech Republic
Capital punishment (trest smrti in Czech) is forbidden by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Czech Republic (part of the constitutional law of the Czech Republic) and is simultaneously prohibited by international legal obligations arising from the Czech Republic's membership of both the Council of Europe and the European Union.
Historically the capital punishment was legal, and was used, when the Czech Republic was part of Czechoslovak Federation, until the punishment was abolished by amendment of the federal criminal code in 1990. The last execution was carried out in 1989.
History and methods of capital punishment
Capital punishment was common under the Austrian Monarchy, with a short exception from 1787 to 1795 under the rule of Joseph II, in Austria-Hungary, and from 1918 in the newly created Czechoslovakia. During the period from 1918 to 1989, a total of 1,217 people were executed legally, the majority of them (61%) immediately after World War II, many others (21%) were executed from political reasons during the terror in early years of communist rule and the rest of the executed people were convinced criminals (18%).
The common method of execution during the whole period was pole hanging. Other methods of hanging or firing squad were rare. Following the abolition of the open-air execution areas in 1954, a execution cell was built in the basement of the Pankrác Prison, where executions were carried out until 1989. The device in Pankrác's "death chamber" was a simple noose attached to the wall with the remotely operated trapdoor in the floor.
First Czechoslovak Republic (1918–1938)
During the presidency of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1918–35) 16 people were executed, incl. 4 for military treason. Masaryk was an opponent of capital punishment and had the privilege of commuting death sentences, one he exercised frequently. His successor Edvard Beneš signed the death sentences for 8 people, incl. 3 for military treason. After his resignation 2 more criminals were executed before the occupation of the country.
German occupation (1939–1945)
During the time of German occupation thousands were executed and hundreds of thousands were killed without any trial. Though the summary executions happened only rare (in comparation to other countries occupied by Germans), such occasions happened nearly every year (see the massacres in during World War). In Prague Pankrác prison 1079 were guillotined or hanged, about 550 were shot in Prague-Kobylisy, about 800 were shot or hanged in Brno, about 300 were shot or hanged in Theresienstadt-Small Fortress etc. Hundreds of Czech people were also tried and executed in German prisons, such as Dresden (846 people) or Berlin-Plötzensee (677 people). Thousands other were killed by hanging, gas chambers or shot in the Nazi concentration camps.
In the period of German occupation, only 3 criminals were sentenced to death and executed by Czech courts.
Postwar retribution (1945–1948)
After World War II, based on the Beneš decrees, special courts at the local level (lidové soudy , people's courts) were set up to punish war crimes and collaboration. Until 1948 they sentenced 713 people to death. Another 10 people were executed for common crimes.
Communist Czechoslovakia (1948-1989)
During the presidency of Klement Gottwald (1948–53) 237 people were executed, of whom over 190 for political crimes. Gottwald pardoned 18 people. Among the best known of those executed are Milada Horáková, a politician, hanged in 1950. The widely publicised Prague Trials with former party's general secretary Rudolf Slánský resulted in 11 executions.
During this period hundreds of other people died due to cruel conditions in prisons and concentration camps such as the Concentration camp in Jáchymov.
During the presidency of Antonín Zápotocký (1953–57) 94 people were executed. That figure fell to 87 people during Antonín Novotný's presidency (1957–68), 14 people during the presidency of Ludvík Svoboda (1968–1975, including a period during which Prime Minister Lubomír Štrougal acted as President in ill Svodoba's absence) and then to 38 people during that of Gustáv Husák (1975–89).
From 1954 to 1968 all executions were carried out in Pankrác Prison, Prague; after 1968 some took place in Bratislava. In 1956 the number of crimes punishable by death was reduced and mandatory review of sentences was introduced. In 1961 a law made the conditions for capital punishment more strict, with only especially brutal murders punishable by death. The last execution in Czechoslovakia took place on 8 June 1989, when Štefan Svitek was hanged in Bratislava prison for triple murder; in today's Czech Republic the last executed person was Vladimír Lulek, hanged on 2 February 1989 in Pankrác Prison for murder of his wife and four children. The last person sentenced to death was Zdeněk Vocásek, but his sentence was changed to life imprisonment in 1990.
Abolition of the capital punishment
Soon after the Communist party fell from power in 1989 the new president Václav Havel pushed the abolition of the capital punishment through parliament. A May 1990 criminal law reform replaced capital punishment with life imprisonment. Furthermore in January 1991 capital punishment became prohibited by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which became part of the Czechoslovak constitutional law and since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia remains part of the Czech constitutional law.
Capital punishment in the Czech Republic is simultaneously prohibited by international legal obligations arising from the Czech Republic's membership of both the Council of Europe and the European Union.
- Due to the certain chaos in historical records, the actual number may be slightly different. The above-mentioned numbers also don't include people executed during the German occupation of the Czech lands from 1939 to 1945 or during the existence of the Slovak State. The period of occupation introduced also many other methods of execution (apart from the hanging and firing squad) such as guillotine, lethal injection and gas chamber. See Liška, Otakar; a kolektiv (2006). Tresty smrti vykonané v Československu v letech 1918–1989. Praha: Úřad dokumentace a vyšetřování zločinů komunismu. pp. 261–262)
- Liška, Otakar; a kolektiv (2006). Tresty smrti vykonané v Československu v letech 1918–1989 (in Czech). Praha: Úřad dokumentace a vyšetřování zločinů komunismu. pp. 261–262. ISBN 80-86621-09-X.
- Novotný, Petr (28 July 2007). "Rozhovor s posledním českým katem! Před popravou rvačka, po ní panák rumu..." [Interview with the last Czech executioner! Before the execution brawl after shot of rum ...]. AHA online.cz (in Czech). ISSN 1213-8991. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
- Šír, Vojtěch (10 March 2010). "Popraviště v protektorátu Čechy a Morava". Fronta.cz (in Czech). Retrieved 12 April 2017.
- List of all people executed in Czechoslovakia, historical background, laws, bibliography (in Czech, MS Word document, HTML version by Google)