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Czech Republic19 January 2004

Newspaper editor badly beaten in an attack that could be linked to his work

Reporters Without Borders today called on the Czech authorities to take firm action in response to a violent attack on Tomas Nemecek, the editor of the weekly Respekt, on 17 January.

Nemecek, 30, was sprayed with pepper gas and then kicked and punched in the head by two men men after leaving a shop near his home in Prague. His assailants said nothing and took nothing from him. He was hospitalised with injuries to his head and face, but his condition was not critical. The police have said they are investigating.

"The authorities must react with the utmost firmness to this act of violence, which could constitute a direct attack on press freedom," Reporters Without Borders said in a letter to interior minister Stanislav Gross.

"We call on you to ensure that all appropriate resources are deployed to identify and punish those responsible and, at this early stage of the investigation, to not rule out the possibility that the attack was linked to the victim’s work as a journalist," the organisation added.

Marek Svehla, the weekly’s deputy editor, told Reporters Without Borders: "The attack was obviously prepared, it was obviously against the newspaper." He said it could have been prompted by several articles that have been published since the start of January about a criminal gang operating in Most and Litvinov, in the north of Bohemia, and the failure of the police to take action.

A journalist with the weekly, who did not want to be identified, received a telephone call yesterday from a gang member threatening to attack him if he wrote an article. Svehla voiced scepticism about the ability of the local police to deal with these gangs and said he would like the case to be assigned to a special unit that combats organised crime.

The newspaper has also published investigative reports on such sensitive issues as a neo-Nazi group’s racist behaviour towards the Roma in the eastern region of Ostrava, arms trafficking and the privatisation of coals mines in northern Bohemia.

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