İrem UZUN -TDO- The leader of a far-right party with seats in the Slovak parliament was convicted of illegal use of neo-Nazi symbols and sentenced to four years and four months in prison on Monday. Marian Kotleba, whose party holds 14 seats in parliament, was decided that he was spreading hatred by holding a charity stunt that the court concluded had a Nazi theme.

Kotleba 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. Prosecutor Tomas Honz argued in court that the 14 represented a neo-Nazi manifesto, 14 Words, coined by notorious white supremacist David Lane, while 88 stood for the eighth letter in the alphabet, “H”, which is a reference to the Nazi salute.

In an exhaustive speech, Kotleba argued that the numbers were coincidental and that no one in history has been prosecuted for helping people in need. He read out a list of dozens of items and public contracts worth similar sums, including ads for flowerpots, solar lamps or shoes. Ultimately, his arguments failed to convince Judge Ruzena Sabova. The court did not accepted prosecutors’ argument that the racist references were intentional. The Specialized 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.

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