Police to prosecute teens accused of defacing Prague's ancient Charles Bridge

The suspects will be treated as juveniles, and will face reduced penalties that include probation, community service, or 18 months in jail.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 13.10.2021 13:38:00 (updated on 13.10.2021) Reading time: 3 minutes

Police have started prosecuting a 17-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl for spraying song lyrics in blue paint on Charles Bridge in early July. They are accused of damaging another's property. Both have reportedly confessed to the crime, according to the District Public Prosecutor's Office for Prague 10. Due to their ages, they face a maximum of half of the normal penalty of three years.

The turquoise graffiti in English appeared on Charles Bridge on July 9. It covered stone railings, the base of the statue of St. Augustine, and lampstands.

The suspected perpetrators were seen on night-time security camera footage that police released the day after the crime. The young man then turned himself in and confessed. Due to privacy laws and the age of the suspects, their names or identifying details cannot be published.

“Prague Police are investigating a case of defacement of the Charles Bridge. At the moment, documentation is being carried out at the site and CCTV footage is being secured. The unknown perpetrator faces up to three years behind bars for the crime of damaging property,” the Czech Police said on Twitter at the time of the incident.

The hard-to-read graffiti contained song lyrics from the winning Dutch entry in the 2019 Eurovision contest, “Arcade” by Duncan Laurence. “Loving you is a losing game” is the main refrain of the song. The song has also been popular on the social media platform TikTok.

Additional pictures of the graffiti were posted on Facebook by a member of the public. “I'm sorry, but the beast that sprayed this on the railing and the statue of Charles Bridge would deserve a strong Gothic punishment,” the user said. At the time, the ages of the perpetrators were not known.

Juvenile offenders face reduced sentences

The court can impose a sentence of up to three years for damaging another’s property, especially if it is a national monument. However, since defendants are juveniles, they face a maximum of half of the punishment if they are found guilty.

Juveniles can be sentenced to educational, protective, or criminal measures. Educational measures include, for example, supervision by a probation officer or the completion of a probation program. Protective measures are intended to keep the offender from getting into further trouble, and criminal measures include community service, financial sanctions, and, in the most serious cases, imprisonment, which can be suspended.

Constant target for graffiti

The graffiti was quickly removed by restorer Jakub Tlučhoř, who takes care of the overall maintenance of Charles Bridge. The removal cost CZK 110,000, slightly more than the initial estimate.

The graffiti incident occurred on what, at least according to legend, was the 664th anniversary of the start of construction of Charles Bridge. Work began July 9, 1357, at 5:31 in the morning in Old Bohemian time. This created the numerical palindrome 1357, 9.7, 5:31. The significant time was suggested by Emperor Charles IV, who had consulted astrologers.

There have been several incidents of graffiti in recent years on Charles Bridge. One of the largest incidents occurred in July 2019. Two German tourists visiting Prague for a heavy metal concert painted a five-meter-long and two-meter-high black-and-blue logo on a bridge supports.

The Prague Municipal Court in December 2020 upheld a 12-month suspended sentence to German tourist Benjamin Wittig, who claimed he was only a bystander. The court also upheld a penalty of CZK 100,000 and expulsion from the Czech Republic for five years. He is further appealing the conviction to the Czech Supreme Court. His brother Niclas Steiger admitted guilt and accepted the sentence without appeal.

Detail of the graffiti on Charles Bridge / via Raymond Johnston
Detail of the graffiti on Charles Bridge. (Photo: Raymond Johnston)

The cleaning of the bridge after that incident created another scandal, as an unauthorized professional graffiti cleaner removed the graffiti with a pressure spray. He claimed the authorities responsible were taking too long, and the delay would cause permanent damage.

An arch was again vandalized in March 2020 with the words "Kraków + Moscow = Prague." The railing of the bridge was also vandalized in 2016. Two French tourists were eventually identified in that incident, but they had already left the country before they could be arrested.

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