BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Former Slovak prime minister Robert Fico - leader of the country's biggest party - has been charged with racism over his support for a far-right former lawmaker who lost his seat in parliament over racist remarks, police said on Thursday.
The Supreme Court ruled in September that Milan Mazurek from the far-right People's Party-Our Slovakia (LSNS) committed a crime by expressing comments aimed at the Roma minority and imposed a fine on him.
Fico released a video message in which he supported Mazurek, who had said: "The Gypsy anti-socials have never done anything for the nation and never will," and compared Roma children to "animals in the zoo".
Fico could face a prison term of one to five years if found guilty of approving a crime and defaming nation, race and belief as well as inciting national, race and ethnic hatred, police said in a statement.
"Milan Mazurek said what almost the whole nation thinks and if you execute someone for truth, you make him a national hero," Fico said in the message, originally released on his official Facebook page in September.
"If the Supreme Court ruling were to be the benchmark of what is a crime in addressing the Roma, then the investigatory bodies can enter any pub in Slovakia and lock up all the guests," he said.
The far-right LSNS is viewed as a possible coalition partner for Fico's Smer party after a general election on Feb. 29, given that LSNS has recently backed a number of Smer bills in the parliament. Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, however, has ruled out such coalition.
Smer, a Social Democrat, socially conservative party, has been losing support since the 2018 murder of a journalist who investigated links between the underworld and the government, but still remains the most popular party.
Fico resigned under pressure from public demonstrations after the murder but has kept his three-party coalition in government by installing party ally Pellegrini as prime minister.
According to 2013 data from the Labour Ministry and the United Nations, there are about 400,000 Roma among Slovakia's population of 5.4 million, which makes them the second biggest minority after ethnic Hungarians. Many of them live in segregated townships without sewage and running water, facing discrimination at schools and in the workplace.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova and Robert Muller; Editing by Giles Elgood)