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Slovakia court convicts far-right deputy of extremism

1 min 25Approximate reading time

A court in Slovakia on Monday sentenced a far-right deputy to four years and four months in jail for promoting extremism, despite a closing plea by the defendant that lasted nearly eight hours.

Marian Kotleba, leader of the Popular Party-Our Slovakia (LSNS), had been put on trial for promoting a movement that aimed to suppress basic rights and liberties, after using a well-known neo-Nazi symbol.

At a 2017 charity event organised by the party at a school in the central city of Banska Bystrica attended by 400 people, Kotleba handed prizes to three families that consisted of three cheques for 1,488 euros ($1,757).

The number 1488 has special significance for the neo-Nazi movement: 14 refers to the 14-word slogan of white supremacist David Lane, while 88 stands for "H", the eight letter of the alphabet. "HH" represents the Nazi salute "Heil Hitler".

Kotleba, 43, denied the charges against him. "I'm not aware of having committed any crime," he told the court, in a closing speech that lasted nearly eight hours.

According to local media reports, he has appealed the judgment to the supreme court.

But if the ruling is confirmed in the higher court, Kotleba will also lose his seat as a deputy, as set out in the Slovakian constitution.

Kotleba, a former governor of the Banaska Bystrica region, is known for having organised marches in which his party's members wore neo-Nazi uniforms. He has in the past been accused of hate speech without ever having been convicted.

A former high school teacher, Kotleba is openly hostile to the Roma community.

He has also praised the Slovakian wartime leader Jozef Tiso, who allied his regime to that of the German Nazis. Tiso was subsequently convicted of treason and crimes against humanity and executed.

In 2018, at the request of the prosecution service, the country's supreme court decided not to ban Kotleba's party.

The LSNS first entered parliament in 2016 and holds 17 of the chamber's 150 seats.

"This verdict is a breakthrough," said Aneta Vilagi, an analyst at Bratislava University.

"It's the very first time that a Slovakian court has convicted such as well-known and politically engaged public figure of extremism," she added.

"The LSNS has always said that they were in no way extremist and that they cannot be convicted of extremism. This verdict has shown they are wrong."

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