The Czech Republic’s Muslim community has complained after police raided the headquarters of Prague’s Islamic Foundation and a mosque on the outskirts of the city during Friday prayers, detaining some 20 people and filing hate crime charges against one man. Muslim community leaders say the operation was over the top – and deny inciting ethnic or religious hatred.
Amateur video footage posted online allegedly captures Friday’s police raid in a Muslim prayer room in central Prague. It shows police officers giving orders in Czech and English. They instruct those present not to move or touch anything; the short clip ends with a serious warning, presumably coming from one of the policemen: “Stay at your positions or we will shoot.”
On Friday afternoon, the organized crime unit of the Czech police raided the headquarters of Prague’s Islamic Foundation in the centre of the capital and a mosque on the outskirts of the city. They also conducted several house searchers. A police spokesman said they had acted on allegations that a book that had been published by the Czech Muslim Community was inciting racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism.
Some 20 people were detained during the raid and brought in for questioning. On Saturday, the police charged a 55-year-old Czech man with promoting hate speech. But the head of the Association of Czech Muslim Communities, Muneeb Hassan Alrawi, says the raid was disproportionate.
“We have nothing against the police investigating these issues. The law applies to everyone. But we protest against the scope of the raid. We think it was excessive and inadequate. Fully armed, masked officers arrived during Friday prayers, which is the most important time of the week for us. So we have filed a complaint with the police presidium and are considering further legal steps.”
An Indonesian diplomat in Prague, who was detained for hour and a half after Friday’s operation, said his embassy had filed a complaint to the Czech Foreign Ministry.
The police have not disclosed which book prompted the operation. According to local media reports, it was the Czech edition of Fundamentals of Tawheed by Bilal Philips. In it, the controversial Jamaican-born Muslim cleric justifies some radical views held by the Wahhabi and Salafi movements.
Mr Alrawi denies that Czech Muslims would adhere to the extremist positions allegedly contained in the book, which came out in 2012.
“The Czech edition was prepared by a very small group of people. Unfortunately, it was published by the community, but that does not mean we hold the same views. We now want to review the book and if it does contain problematic passages, we will want to disassociate ourselves from it. So unfortunately, there has been a problem with how these things work inside the community.”
Several Czech experts on religious extremism told Radio Prague the 10,000 to 12,000 strong Czech Muslim community was fragmented but that it was unlikely that they would be increasingly prone to radicalism. Community leaders, meanwhile, have expressed concerns that the raids could derail their efforts to become an officially recognized religion; that would give them, among other things, the right to educate Muslim children at Czech state schools.