BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Slovakia's Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a request by the country's prosecutor general to ban a far-right party that has 14 seats in the country's parliament.
In his request filed two years ago, Jaromir Ciznar said the far-right People's Party Our Slovakia is an extremist group whose activities violate the country's constitution and its goal is to destroy the country's democratic system.
But the court ruled the prosecutor general failed to provide enough evidence for the ban.
The verdict is final.
"The ruling has clearly showed that our party is legitimate and democratic," party chairman Marian Kotleba said on Monday. He said it was "a political trial."
The prosecutor's office didn't immediately comment.
Kotleba's supporters applauded in the court room while the opponents unveiled a banner in front of the court that read "Stop Fascism."
The party openly admires the Nazi puppet state that the country was during World War II. Party members use Nazi salutes, blame Roma for crime in deprived areas, consider NATO a terror group and want the country out of the alliance and the European Union.
If granted, it would have been the first ban on a parliamentary party.
There is a precedent, though. In 2006, the same court banned a predecessor of People's Party, the neo-Nazi Slovak Togetherness-National Party, also led by Kotleba.
It was a fringe political group then. Today, the popularity of Kotleba's group is on the rise. Some recent polls suggested it's the second most popular political party in the country. Kotleba finished fourth in the first round of Slovakia's presidential election last month.
Its simple slogan — "With courage against the system!" — attracts young people fed up with corruption and the inability of mainstream parties to deal effectively with the post-communist country's problems.
In contrast to most of Europe's far-right groups, analysts say it's truly neo-Nazi because it advocates the legacy of the Slovak Nazi war state.
It celebrates Jozef Tiso, a Catholic priest and politician who was Slovakia's war president. During his rule, some 60,000 Slovak Jews were transported to Nazi death camps. He was sentenced to death and hanged in 1947.
Kotleba's party made news by launching patrols on trains in 2016 in a reaction to a robbery blamed on a member of the Roma minority. Parliament outlawed them.
The party "unequivocally aims at the removal of the current (political) system," said Ivan Minar, one of the prosecutors representing the prosecutor general at the trial. "Democracy has a right, and also a duty to defend itself," he said.
But Judge Jana Zemkova said the prosecutors' arguments were not "legally relevant," and "lacked evidence" for such a serious decision as a ban.
"It's certainly a boost for the party,"said Grigorij Meseznikov, an analyst. "The Supreme Court proved them right to claim they're a standard part of the political system."
The party stands a good chance of winning seats in next month's European Parliament elections.