Church Official on Trial in Ljubljana Over Anti-Abortion Hate Speech

By , 11 Oct 2018, 11:50 AM News
Ljubljana Cathedral Ljubljana Cathedral Wikimedia - Tom Mrazek CC-by-2.0

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STA, 10 October 2018 - A hate speech trial against Slovenian Bishops' Conference secretary general Tadej Strehovec got under way at the Ljubljana Local Court on Wednesday, the culmination of a clash over prayers for unborn children staged by anti-abortion activists outside the Ljubljana gynaecology clinic. 

The Ljubljana District State Prosecution, which is seeking a two-year prison sentence, has charged Strehovec with having allowed the spreading of hatred as the editor of the 24kul.si website, the public arm of the Church-backed 24kul.si anti-abortion group that he leads.

The website published in February 2016 an article listing the signatories of a letter sent to the country's leadership as an effort to protect women's constitutional rights in the face of rallies that continue to be staged in front of the clinic by a group called God's Children.

Written under an alias, the article labels the 264 signatories, most of them scholars, human rights activists or NGOs, as members of an "abortion lobby responsible for the termination of the life of 350,000 unborn women", among other things.

The article, entitled List of Members of the Abortion Lobby that Opposes Unborn Girls' and Boys' Right to Life and including a photo of gun directed at a pregnant woman's belly, has led to threats issued against several of the initiative's signatories.

The website later also published the names of the 15 signatories who prompted the charges against Strehovec. According to the newspaper Večer, this article was also accompanied by a call to readers to supply 24kul.si with any available information about the 15 or their photos.

Strehovec, who is serving his second term as Bishops' Conference secretary general, denies being the editor of the website, while admitting the name under the article is an alias of a person he has the right to protect.

The official, who also argues 24kul.si is not a media company, claims the author exercised the right to freedom of speech and defended the God's Children group, whose prayers are an exercise of the "constitutionally secured freedom of conscience and freedom of religion".

In court today, he denied seeing the article before it was published, saying the website also served as a platform for various NGOs that could publish content autonomously.

Until recently also the public relations officer of the Bishops' Conference, Strehovec has received the full support of the Catholic Church in Slovenia.

Ljubljana Archbishop Stanislav Zore said Strehovec was being persecuted because he defended Catholic positions on abortion, while the Bishops Conference's Commission for Justice and Peace spoke of a show trial reminiscent of the old regime.

A protest rally with around 300-400 participants was organised in front of the courthouse today, to be followed by several more in a manner reminiscent of and featuring many of the key figures of the court protests against the imprisonment of Democrats (SDS) leader Janez Janša.

Janša also attended, as did Anton Stres, Ljubljana archbishop and metropolitan between 2009 and 2013, and Aleš Primc, who cooperated with Strehovec in efforts against gay marriage and adoptions.

Strehovec, who also announced a damages lawsuit today, will celebrate a red mass for all members of the legal profession at the Ljubljana Cathedral this evening.

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