PRAGUE (Reuters) - Slovakia's far-right leader Marian Kotleba, whose party holds 14 seats in parliament, was sentenced to four years and four months jail on Monday for spreading hatred by holding a charity stunt that the court concluded had a Nazi theme.
Kotleba, a member of parliament and former regional governor who founded a far right party, was accused of distributing cheques to poor families for 1,488 euros at an event marking the anniversary of the founding of Slovakia's Nazi-era puppet state.
The number 1488 is a symbol for white supremacists, referring to a 14-word racist slogan and the Nazi salute 'Heil Hitler', which begins with the eighth letter of the alphabet. The court accepted prosecutors' argument that the racist references were intentional.
The Specialised Criminal Court in Pezinok, north of the capital Bratislava, found Kotleba, 43, guilty of backing a movement aiming to suppress fundamental rights and freedoms.
The ruling can still be appealed to the Supreme Court, and he was not immediately jailed. If confirmed, Kotleba would also lose his parliamentary seat.
Kotleba's party wants to take Slovakia out of the U.S.-led NATO alliance and is deeply critical of the EU. It has voiced respect in the past for Slovakia’s World War Two Nazi puppet regime whose leader, Jozef Tiso, helped tens of thousands of Slovak Jews to be deported to Nazi death camps and was later tried for treason.
The party has in the past years softened its tone, emphasising pledges to toughen law and order and defend “decent Slovaks” against what it sees as the EU-driven evils of immigration liberalism.
It placed fourth in Slovakia's February 2020 election with 8% of the vote, winning 14 out of 150 seats in parliament.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Peter Graff)