CZECHIA: The Czech judiciary questioned by the European Commission (Part I)
Two Czech yoga teachers condemned to a prison term apply for asylum in their host country (Philippines) for alleged biased proceedings in Czechia
HRWF (19.08.2021) – On 20 July, the European Commission (EC) published its 2021 Rule of Law Report in which a 22-page chapter dedicated to Czechia was critical about the judiciary and confirmed negative remarks already mentioned in 2020: lack of transparency in the process of selection of judges and lack of sufficient safeguards in disciplinary proceedings against judges.
The 2021 report reads: “Judges and prosecutors have been subject to critical statements by representatives of the Government. Representatives of the executive have on several occasions made critical remarks with respect to high-ranking judges and the Prosecution Service, calling in question their independence. As a reaction, representatives of the judiciary have issued statements expressing their concern and recalling the importance of judicial independence and public trust in the judiciary. On 14 May the Prosecutor General announced his resignation, indicating perceived pressure as one of the reasons.”
A Czech spiritual teacher and his female co-worker living now in the Philippines since 2009 complain that because of their teachings about and practice of Tantric yoga in Czechia they have been victims of a miscarriage of justice in an incident qualified by the judiciary as a rape case. They have applied for asylum in their host country (Philippines) to avoid deportation to Czechia. Their request should be examined soon by a relevant court.
The case of two yoga teachers
Jaroslav Dobeš was born in January 1971 in Czechoslovakia under the Communist regime. At the age of eighteen he recognized his discomfort with living in an atheistic society and wanted to escape. He was a good alpinist and he fled through the mountains of Yugoslavia; his destination was Rome and the Vatican. In Italy, he studied the Christian Holy Scriptures with Catholic monks and intensively practiced advanced meditations on hermitages.
In 1992 for family reasons, he went back to his country which had since dispelled its’ communist regime. From there, his spiritual quest led him to India. In 1996, after studying at his guru in Haridwar, India, he received the tantric title of Baba.
In 1996, he went back to the Czech Republic to share his spiritual experience – comprised of meditation relaxation exercises and spiritual guidance – with his compatriots and established a small group of thirty followers. Over the next few years, the spiritual group experienced rapid growth and expansion. Jaroslav Dobeš – usually called Jara by his followers at that time – and his followers launched spiritual seminars and major festivals in various parts of the country: Zlin, Prague, and Opava, amongst other areas. They also established a monastery in Beskydy. The followers were mostly highly educated people: members of the legal profession, judges, professors, etc.
Since 2000 Jaroslav Dobeš has been on the radar of the Czech Anticult movement as the leader of a constantly growing spiritual group of solely Czech origin. By 2004, his followers were numbering in the thousands. Most of them recognized Jaroslav Dobeš as a spiritual master, enlightened mystic and respected authority.
In 2004, the spiritual group established the esoteric Poetrie School in Brno for seminars and practices on meditation, yoga, feng shui, astrology, acupuncture, telepathy, auric-healing and other spiritual rituals as well pilgrimages also open for a wider public. The spiritual teachings of Jaroslav Dobeš were described as a syncretic faith combining yoga, tantra, Kabbalah, Buddhism with a form of Christianity and ancient Egyptian teachings.
2004 – 2009: Media harassment, stigmatization, hate wave and emigration
In the aftermath of these developments, some social and governmental hostility became more pressing. There was then an attempt to register a charity for religious purposes but their application was rejected. Their monastery in Beskydy was set on fire by unidentified arsonists. Members of the group reported being subjected to police interrogation and harassment. The media also contributed to stigmatize the group and its leader.
After President Vaclav Havel’s presidency, Jaroslav Dobeš considered that the political and cultural climate was deteriorating in Czechia and in 2003 he decided to start a new life in Asia. He occasionally came back to his country for meetings with his followers and summer camps.
In spring 2007, he definitely left Czechia. At that time, a preliminary investigation had been initiated on the basis of the complaint of a woman who claimed to have been misled about the effects of the Tantric sexual ritual about which she had been previously informed and she had agreed to. In her statement to the police, she did not complain about any undue pressure or act of sexual violence or rape.
A few weeks days after his departure back to Asia, Jaroslav Dobeš was summoned by mail to appear at the Czech police station to be questioned for a preliminary investigation regarding accusations of “leading to a mistake” during a tantric treatment. He stayed in Nepal for two years and then left due to the worsening political situation.
Barbora Plášková gave her statement in April 2007 and was told that the complaint was without any foundation. She then left Czechia and was never contacted by the police again.
At this stage, it is important to stress that neither Jaroslav Dobeš nor Barbora Plášková had left Europe to avoid criminal prosecution contrary to what the Czech authorities have always declared.
In the meantime, the lawyer of the female plaintiff requalified the accusation as a rape.
On 14 May 2007, Jaroslav Dobeš was put on the Wanted List of the Czech police alledging his whereabouts were unknown.
In 2008, he led an international spiritual gathering of his followers in Bangkok, Thailand, where he had been living for several months. He also went to India, Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia to further deepen his spiritual knowledge. In the meantime, the Poetrie School in Czechia was forced to close.
On 18 February 2009, Filipino immigration authorities admitted the entry of Jaroslav Dobeš into the country and in March 2009, it was Barbara Plášková’s turn. On the island of Siargao he met his partner with whom he got a child a few years later.
It is only in October 2009 that Barbora Plášková was put on the Wanted List of the Czech police alleging her whereabouts were unknown.
2009-2012: Social and police harassment in Czechia
In 2009, a campaign against Jaroslav Dobeš and Barbora Plášková was launched by former lecturers of the esoteric movement along with a Czech anti-cult movement. In the summer of that year, the special police unit for combating organized crime and mafia (UOOZ) became involved in the case in Czechia.
In 2010, the UOOZ investigation in Czechia gained impetus. Hundreds of former students of the Poetrie School and members alike were interrogated. In October, massive police raids and house searches took place. It is to be noted that this happened a week after a spiritual workshop attracting about 150-200 followers was held in Brno. This must have given the impression to the authorities that despite the closure of the Poetrie School and the departure of Jaroslav Dobeš and Barbora Plášková, the movement was still alive and in good health. The police then found out that Jaroslav Dobeš and Barbora Plášková were living in the Philippines.
On 19 October 2010, the premises of the movement and the homes of senior members in Czechia were raided by the police. The crackdowns were carried out in the early hours of the morning by elite police corps as if they were dealing with terrorists. Thirteen female mentors were detained. Computers, phones, databases were seized. The movement’s bank accounts with about 200,000 EUR were blocked and were only returned to the director of Poetrie School 11 years later, in 2021. The private accounts of Jaroslav Dobeš and Barbora Plášková have been seized up to these days.
In 2011, Jaroslav Dobeš and Barbora Plášková started to develop a spiritual sanctuary in the Philippines called „Project Comenius“ after the name of the well-known Moravian philosopher and theologian who in his time was persecuted on religious and political grounds. It was to be a safe haven for other Czech followers of Jaroslav Dobeš feeling harassed and persecuted in their own country. Some of his followers from Czechia built an assembly hall, meditation pools, prayer venues, and so on. They began to organize international seminars that attracted followers from around the world, including participants from Japan and the United States, amongst many other nationalities.
In January 2011, the UOOZ accused Jaroslav Dobeš and Barbora Plášková of fraud and human trafficking but these accusations were later dropped. They were replaced by charges of multiple rapes allegedly committed between 2004 and 2006.
“Leaked” information from secret police investigation was massively publicized in Czech mass media – newspapers, television and radio. Reports were also taken over by the foreign press. Only some media initially adhered to the principle of neutrality and honored the presumption of innocence. Intensive media campaign lasted for several years and negatively influenced public opinion about Jaroslav Dobeš and the members of his spiritual group. His followers who said publicly to be members of the group went under strong pressure, exclusion and hostility in Czechia.
In January 2012, the Supreme State Attorney’s Office rejected the charges of human trafficking put forward by the UOOZ and the case was transferred to the ordinary police department in Zlin.
2012 – 2014: Court proceedings, sentences to heavy prison terms in absentia in Czechia
It is on 30 March 2012 that the prosecution against Jaroslav Dobeš and Barbora Plášková started.
On 28 May 2012, the Zlin branch of the Regional Court of Brno issued an international arrest warrant against Jaroslav Dobeš and Barbora Plášková for eight rapes allegedly committed between 2004 and 2006. They were labeled as fugitive with unknown whereabouts although the police knew they were living in the Philippines. This was the first official warrant issued for alleged rapes.
On 7 October 2014, Jaroslav Dobeš and Barbora Plášková were convicted by the Zlin branch of the Regional Court in Brno. They were sentenced in absentia, respectively to 10 and 9.5 years of imprisonment with strict regime. None of the alleged victims was present.
When a delegation of Human Rights Without Frontiers (Brussels) and FOREF (Vienna) visited them in detention in 2016, their living conditions were appalling and there was no medical service. In the past, the detention camp was also hit by riots. Since the COVID-19, the detainees have been totally isolated from the outside world: the center has been closed, there have been positive cases and visits have been cancelled.
Photo: The two yoga teachers are kept in the Immigration Detention Center of Bagong Diwa in the Philippines. They were visited by Human Rights Without Frontiers and FOREF in 2016)
(Part II to be published on 20 August)