Muslim leaders in the Czech Republic on Monday accused the police of abusing their power after armed officers raided Islamic institutions in Prague over the weekend, detaining 20 people during Friday Prayer at a mosque and a community center, and arresting the publisher of a book that law enforcement officials say incites xenophobia and violence.
A spokesman for the Czech police, Pavel Hantak, declined to identify the publisher or the book. He told the Czech news media that he did not want to help promote a book that disseminated racism, anti-Semitism and violence against what it called “inferior races.”
The police said the publisher was a 55-year-old Czech citizen who had the book translated into Czech. He has been charged with promoting hate speech, a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Muneeb Hassan Alrawi, the head of the Association of Czech Muslim Religious Communities, said in an interview on Monday that law enforcement officials had indicated that the book behind the raids was “The Fundamentals of Tawheed” by Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, a Jamaican-born imam, who has been banned from entering Australia and Britain and expelled from Germany because of what his critics call extremist views.
Mr. Alrawi said that several copies of the book had been confiscated by the police during a raid Friday at the headquarters of the Islamic Foundation, a community center in Prague, the Czech capital.
Lukas Lhotan, a former convert to Islam who has since become an outspoken critic of the religion, said Monday that he had filed a criminal complaint against the book this month on the grounds that it preached dangerous radicalism. Mr. Lhotan said the book advised Muslims to form Muslim governments wherever they are, and called Jews the enemies of Islam.
Mr. Philips had previously argued that there was no such thing as rape in marriage under Shariah, the legal code of Islam based on the Quran, and he has also come under criticism in Britain for seeming to condone suicide bombers.
On Monday, he vehemently defended the book, saying that millions of copies had been published in Muslim communities around the world. He said that the book was a commentary on Islamic theology and that there was “no place for racism” in the book. Any action against the book, he said, could “constitute an attack on Islam itself.”
Mr. Alrawi, who represents Muslim organizations in the Czech Republic, said the Czech edition of “The Fundamentals of Tawheed,” which was first published in 2012, had been overseen by a small group of people and had not been sufficiently vetted. “We made a mistake of not having thoroughly overseen the publication of the book,” he said. “We were not aware that some of its passages could be in breach of Czech law. Our association certainly does not hold any extremist views.”
Local Muslim groups complained that the raids, at the headquarters of the Islamic Foundation in central Prague and at a mosque on the city’s outskirts, had taken place during Friday Prayer. Wahono Yulianto, an Indonesian diplomat who was present during the raid at the mosque, said Monday that the Indonesian Embassy in Prague had lodged an official complaint with the Czech Foreign Ministry after he was detained by the police for 90 minutes.
“We had no idea why the police came,” he said. “They made us put up our hands and told us to lie on the floor. They walked in the prayer room with their shoes on and were shouting.”
Zdenek Vojtisek, an expert on religious extremism at Charles University in Prague, said that the roughly 10,000 Muslims in the Czech Republic were fragmented and that there was no evidence that the community had become radicalized in recent years.
Other analysts said the raids could help fuel anti-immigrant sentiment in the country at a time when the far right is gaining ground.
Filip Mahdi has sent us the following account:
On Friday 25th April the mosque in Prague-Černý Most and the prayer room in Politických vězňů Street near Václavské náměstí in the City Centre were raided by commandos of anti-organized crime unit of Czech police.
The police arrived just before the jumua prayers (cca 1pm local time), sealed both premises and access to them and according to some sources in Czech media either told the people inside to hold their arms behind their heads or to lay face down. From a video leaked later however, it was obvious that the Muslims were ordered “only” to look down with heads down and not to touch anything.
The raid was in relation to alleged offence of “publication and distribution of a book, contents of which are aimed to spread racism, antisemitism, xenophobia and violence against so-called inferior races” (literary translation).
According to self-proclaimed former Muslim, Lukáš Lhoťan, this book is probably the Czech translation of The Fundamentals of Tawheed – Islamic Concept of God by Bilal Philips. Islamophobe Lhoťan said that he recently filed an official complaint against this book.
The spokesperson for the police’s Anti-Organized Crime Unit (ÚOOZ), Pavel Hanták, declined to confirm or deny whether the book in question was this one, adding that he would not like to advertise for it.
Regarding the raid itself, Hanták said, that the police conducted itself with utmost courtesy and respect towards the freedom of belief.
The raid in the prayer room in Prague’s City centre lasted about 4.5 hours, during which about ten people were led way handcuffed, most of them allegedly for irregularities in documentation. One person, 55 year old man of Czech nationality, was charged with the offence related to the raid.
Sick people and people with children were allowed to leave after about an hour and later those with diplomatic passports. The first Secretary of the Indonesian Embassy, Wahono Yuliano, was among them and when released, described the events to the Czech media. The Embassy announced on Saturday, that it will file a protest to the Czech Foreign Ministry about the incident.
The police action continued into Saturday, conducting several house searches.
The president of the Centre of Muslim Communities (an umbrella organization of the Czech Republic’s Muslims), Muneeb Alrawi, complained about the timing and insensitivity of the operation.
The 2 links below have some video footage (media were not allowed in). The 3rd is a report in English.
As of Monday 28th April, the Embassy of Indonesia filed a diplomatic note and a video filmed secretly by one of the Muslims present in the City centre prayer room leaked to the Czech information server idnes.cz. The police officer says in it first in the Czech language: “For everyone who speaks Czech: hold your heads down and look down!” Then he shouts: “For English: Your eyes look down and don’t look to police officers!”. A longer period of silence follows after which the same officer says in Czech: “So one more time for the Czechs: don’t touch anything.” Then he goes on in broken English: “For English: Don’t touch anything, stay in your position – or will be shoot!” (video in the link below)
It is obvious that the timing (beginning of the Friday prayers) and the scale of the operation (an estimated 200 people held incommunicado for several hours with their basic freedoms and rights severely infringed upon) as well as the type of police methods and units employed was not aimed solely at the alleged criminal offence committed but with ulterior motives of intimidation and humiliation of Muslims intended.
The Friday sermon and prayers, as far as it is known up to date, were not conducted which is an unprecedented situation since the opening of the two places of worship in the 1990’s and early 2000’s respectively.
It is well possible that this could be a publicity stunt for the current government before the elections to the European parliament which are due in less than a month, given the prevailing Islamophobic public opinion among the Czechs. This view that I hold comes from a long term knowledge and own experience, being a Czech convert to Islam myself and confirmed once again by reading the public discussion about this outrageous raid; all comments submitted during the first 24 hours after the news publication were without exception in favour of it, asking for more restrictions on Muslims, calling for mass deportations, etc. Similarly to Youtube, comments on idnes.cz can receive thumb up or down – again, the most islamophobic ones have scores of thumbs up!