Milos Zeman, the controversial president of the Czech Republic, has come under fire for brandishing what local news outlets described as a replica AK-47 inscribed with the words “for journalists” at a Friday press conference.
A ThinkProgress article about Zeman’s provocative gun stunt went viral on Sunday, sparking conversations online about the decline of press freedom worldwide, including in the United States. Global press freedom plummeted to a 13-year low in 2016, ThinkProgress noted, citing the think tank Freedom House.
Czech journalist Michal Kubal shared a photo of Zeman with the replica gun on Twitter:
A closer look shows that Zeman’s fake weapon — which he’d recently been gifted during a visit to the Czech region of Plzeň — had a bottle of Czech liqueur in place of a magazine.
Zeman told the reporters that he did not “want to provoke” by showing off the novelty gun. “Do not be afraid,” he said, according to local news outlet Echo24, “the [magazine] is a bottle of Becherovka.”
This has prompted some observers to speculate that Zeman was merely joking and not making a serious threat.
Still, ThinkProgress pointed out that Zeman’s stunt was in particularly poor taste because of its timing. Less than a week ago, investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in Malta.
“Not funny,” wrote Andrew Stroehlein, Europe media director for Human Rights Watch, on Twitter, commenting on Zeman’s recent antics.
Zeman has shown distaste for the press on multiple occasions. According to The New York Times, he’s previously referred to reporters as “manure” and “hyenas.” In May, cameras captured him telling Russian President Vladimir Putin that there were “too many journalists” and that there was a need to “liquidate” them.
Facing a public outcry after his comments to Putin, Zeman later claimed he’d only been joking.
“Journalists never understand bon mots,” said Zeman’s spokesman at the time.