Bratislava, Slovakia – Earlier this week, Slovak journalist, opinion writer and theologian Michal Havran, mostly known for his pieces for the Sme daily, came under investigation by Slovak authorities for an op-ed he published in June 2018 criticizing controversial Catholic priest Marian Kuffa.
On Wednesday, the National Crime Agency (NAKA) branch in Kosice pressed charged against Havran, a 46-year-old protestant theologian mainly educated in France who also hosts a weekly late-night debate on public television, for defamation of a nation, race and belief as well as slander.
In his 2018 op-ed entitled “Send Kuffa to the circus”, the columnist criticized Marian Kuffa, known for his extremist views, for his radical stance towards homosexuals and LGBT people and for his coziness with Marian Kotleba’s neo-Nazi People’s Party our Slovakia (LSNS) party in the latter’s push to promote an abortion ban.
Kuffa is also known for being a vocal critic of the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe international treaty to combat violence against women and promote gender equality twice rejected by Slovakia.
Slovak police pressed charges following a criminal complaint filed by a law firm owned by Jan Carnogursky Jr., the son of Jan Carnogursky Sr., ex-Prime Minister and former leader of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH).
“The author [Michal Havran] stood up against the God of Christians and against Jesus Christ”, the firm’s statement read, according to the Slovak Spectator.
According to public prosecutor Milukas Marton, Havran’s opinion piece constitutes an infringement on the “freedom of expression of people with a religious confession” and represents an attack against their faith and personal beliefs.
Sme editor-in-chief Beata Balogava promptly hit back, arguing that the decision of Slovak authorities to press charges against the columnist amounted to the “bullying of a journalist disguised as a righteous effort of Christians to protect the faith”.
“Havran does not mock faith, Christians or Catholics”, she further wrote. “He mocks Marian Kuffa, who repeatedly attacked minorities. He points to the dangerous religious fanaticism and to how faith can be used to promote extreme opinions that pose a threat to democracy”.
Havran himself, who announced he would file a formal complaint against the charges, didn’t mince his words: “This is not a conflict over theology or literature, this is a political conflict aimed to show that certain groups of people still have enough influence in Slovak society to attempt to ostracize someone or to ruin someone’s career”.
Rights groups and international organizations have warned of the deteriorating situation of press freedom in Slovakia over the past few years, most notably marked by the 2018 murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and by the Smer-led government’s attempt to push new media laws that watchdog groups warned seek to stifle freedom of expression.