Thousands protest in Slovakia over proposed criminal law reforms News
Vityavo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Thousands protest in Slovakia over proposed criminal law reforms

Thousands of protesters gathered in front of Slovakia’s Parliament, as well as almost 30 other Slovak cities, on Wednesday and Thursday to voice opposition to the passage of criminal reforms. Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico first announced the criminal reforms in December 2023. They passed through Parliament on Thursday via a fast-track procedure.

The reforms will abolish the Office of the Special Prosecutor, which currently handles serious cases including corruption and financial and fraud. Prosecutors involved in ongoing investigations will be moved to regional offices of the general prosecutor, but it has been noted that the general prosecutor’s office has shown a tendency to use a notable legal provision (Paragraph 363) to halt prosecutorial processes permanently. The reforms will also reduce the penalty framework for corruption offenses and shorten the statute of limitations.

They were passed through a fast-tracked legislative proposal, drawing criticism from opposition parties and the European Parliament. While Fico acknowledged the European Commission’s comments, he said that they would not affect his proposed criminal law reforms which he claims are protecting human rights. The European Parliament subsequently adopted a resolution in January expressing concerns about the effect such reforms will have on the rule of law in Slovakia. There have also been worries, primarily raised by President Zuzana Čaputová, about the constitutional impact of these reforms.

Fico has long challenged Daniel Lipšic, current Special Prosecutor and previous political opponent to Fico. Following Fico’s first term leading a “Smer” (the left-wing Social Democracy party) government in 2006-2010, Lipšic served as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Justice, and Minister of Interior in the Christian Democratic Movement party before forming a new party, the conservative “New Majority” and serving as its president. The two have had run-ins for most of their careers, with Lipšic openly anti-corruption and overseeing the corruption cases of several Smer candidates and representing Ján Kuciak’s family following the journalist’s and his fiancee’s murders, the protests about which ultimately led to Fico’s original resignation as Prime Minister.

In a recent radio conversation Fico pledged, “We will take all necessary steps to ensure that Daniel Lipšic leaves the Office of the Special Prosecution, because he is a man who has nothing to do there.” He also added that a solution will be reached “legally, legally.” Leader of the coalition Slovak National Party Andrej Danko also made clear his intention to dismantle the Special Prosecutor’s Office, citing Lipšic as the reason. Some legal commentators believe it is such political motivations prompting the reforms, as opposed to Fico’s claim that they are jeopardizing human rights and “politically abusing” their office.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index noted improvement in Slovakia’s corruption levels in January 2022, slightly raising their corruption score from 52 to 53 (higher scores indicate less corruption) but have since said that these reforms have undone this progress. Their chair, François Valérian, commented:

The mission of a democratic government is to uphold the rule of law and defend the victims of corruption, not to make life easier to perpetrators through hastened legislative procedures. Transparency International calls on policymakers in Slovakia to stop undermining the rule of law and return to following standard democratic processes, including the adoption of legislation with public participation.

A petition, primarily run by three opposition parties—Progressive Slovakia, the Christian Democratic Movement, and the Freedom and Solidarity party—reads:

We, the citizens of the Slovak Republic, reject attacks on the rule of law, which must be inviolable in a democratic country. Therefore, we ask the Government of the Slovak Republic to withdraw the draft law by which it wants to abolish the Special Prosecutor’s Office, reduce the penalty rates for corrupt criminal activity and remove the status of protected whistleblowers from members of the Police Force.

At the time of article, the petition has almost 85,000 signatures.