Capital punishment in the Czech Republic

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Capital punishment (trest smrti in Czech) was legal and used in Czechoslovakia until abolition in 1990. The last execution was carried out in 1989. The Czech Republic (established in 1993) observes the decision.

Capital punishment was common in 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. From 1918 to 1989, 1217 people were executed legally, the majority of them immediately after World War II. Due to chaos in historical records the actual number may be slightly different. This number doesn't include people executed during the occupation of the Czech lands from 1939 to 1945 or during the existence of the Slovak State (thousands were executed at that time; of these about 1079 were guillotined in Pankrác prison).

During the presidency of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1918–35) 16 people were executed, 4 for military related crimes. Masaryk was an opponent of capital punishment and had the privilege of commuting death sentences, one he exercised frequently.

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. Until 1948 they sentenced about 730[citation needed]) people to death (60% of the 1918-89 total)[citation needed]). These courts were often motivated by revenge and their procedures didn't favour thorough investigation.[citation needed])

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 resulted in 11 executions.

During this period many 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 1957-68 presidency 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.

Soon after the Communist party fell from power (1989) the new president Václav Havel pushed the abolition of the death penalty through parliament. A May 1990 criminal law reform replaced capital punishment with life imprisonment; in January 1991 death penalty became prohibited by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a part of Czechoslovak, now Czech constitutional law.


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