Milos Zeman, the President of the Czech Republic, has caused consternation by holding up a fake machine gun marked ‘for journalists’ during a press conference.
The incident occurred on Friday as Czechs went to the polls in their country’s general election, a vote that delivered a large margin for populist billionaire Andrej Babis, who has drawn comparisons with Donald Trump.
Babis, the country’s second-richest man, has been buying up large chunks of the nation’s media in an effort to silence criticism and, according to his critics, to undermine democracy.
Zeman, who said on Saturday that he would name Babis as Prime Minister, has a history of making barbs at the media. He has previously referred to journalists as ‘hyenas’ and during a meeting with Vladimir Putin earlier this year he suggested to the Russian President that some of the reporters in attendance needed to be ‘liquidated’.
Friday’s machine gun stunt has caused particular concern as it comes only a few days after a Maltese journalist renowned for her anti-corruption investigations was killed. Daphne Caruana Galizia, who had been dubbed a ‘one-woman Wikileaks’, died after a bomb exploded under her car.
The Czech president’s actions also arrive in the context of Donald Trump’s ongoing attacks on the media in the US, and accusations of government efforts to undermine press freedom in Poland and Hungary.