BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — An appeals court in Slovakia on Tuesday dismissed a lower court ruling that had convicted the leader of a far-right party with seats in the Slovak parliament of illegal use of neo-Nazi symbols and had sentenced to four years and four months in prison.
But the country’s Supreme Court still found Marian Kotleba guilty of sympathizing with neo-Nazism and gave him a six-month suspended sentence.
Kotleba, head of the People’s Party Our Slovakia, was standing trial after he presented three poor families with checks for 1,488 euros ($1,633) in 2017. The number 1,488 has a symbolic meaning for neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
The Specialized Criminal Court in Pezinok issued originally the verdict on October 2020. Kotleba pleaded not guilty and appealed. Tuesday’s ruling by the country’s Supreme Court is final.
The extreme far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia, whose members use Nazi salutes and want Slovakia out of the European Union and NATO, was the fourth-most popular party in the country in February’s 2020 parliamentary election with 8% support.
Kotleba and his party’s members openly back the legacy of the Nazi puppet state that Slovakia was during World War II.
The incident in 2017 took place on March 14, the anniversary of the Slovak wartime state’s establishment in 1939.
In 2019, the Supreme Court dismissed a request by the country’s prosecutor general to ban Kotleba’s party. In his request, Jaromir Ciznar said the People’s Party Our Slovakia is an extremist group whose activities violate the country’s constitution and its goal is to destroy the country’s democratic system.
But the court ruled that the prosecutor general failed to provide enough evidence for the ban.