News Brief

New York Times: Czech President’s Call to Putin to ‘Liquidate’ Journalists Was a Joke, His Office Says

A recording of Czech president Milos Zeman making what appeared to be a joke to Russian President Vladimir Putin about “a need to liquidate” journalists surfaced after a global economics conference this Sunday in Beijing, reported the New York Times.

“And here are other jouranlists?” Zeman asked Putin in Russian as the two walked to a news conference. “There are too many journalists,” Zeman said before remarking about the “need to liquidate” journalists, according to the Times.

The comment caused an uproar among politicians abroad and in the Czech Republic where Zeman’s close relationship with Russia and controversial comments about Muslims — he has called Islam a “religion of death” — other minorities and even vegetarians — he once joked that those who abstain from meat and alcohol should be put to death — have earned him the nickname “Islamophobe-in-Chief.”

Several Czech officials spoke out against their president’s comments. Prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka reshared a Tweet about Russian journalists who have been killed and attacked, wrote the Times.

“Taking into account the state of the media in Russia, the joke made by the president takes on yet another dimension,” said the vice chairman of the country’s Civic Democratic Party Martin Kupka. “It is very serious and all the more so inappropriate.”

However, Zeman’s anti-Muslim messages resonate in the Czech Republic, one of Europe’s most Islamophobic countries, and help him offset his well-documented, pro-Kremlin leanings, despite that most Czechs do not altogether share his enthusiasm for Russia.