Court clears Czech nuclear pranksters of scaremongering charges

( dpa ) - A Czech court Tuesday acquitted seven young guerilla artists of scaremongering charges for sneaking images of a fake atomic mushroom cloud onto live national television.

"We are all happy," the group's leading member David Brudnak, 33, an artist also known as Tyc, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. "How can you scaremonger without having frightened a single person?"

The artists faced a fine or up to three years in prison for feeding prerecorded images of a nuclear blast onto an early-morning weather programme that offers panoramic views of mountainous resorts.

After years of preparation, they managed to plug a camcorder with their atomic tape into one of the programme's unmanned stationary cameras in the northern Krkonose Mountains in June 2007.

A state attorney initially indicted six pranksters and planned to prosecute the seventh separately. The court, however, merged the proceedings.

The artists, who were accompanied to the district court in the northern town of Trutnov by a busload of collaborators, said earlier that the aim of their action, dubbed Media Reality, was not to frighten anyone, but to prompt people to question the validity of what they see in the media.

While the prank infuriated the broadcaster of the weather programme, Czech Television, it did not cause panic.

Psychology expert Jan Lasek testified that the blast appeared to have been "some kind of a practical joke", aktualne.cz news web site reported.

Ztohoven is an all-male collective whose work unwittingly falls into the rich Czech tradition of self-deprecating humour and playful hoaxes. The name is a pun, which means both "Out of It" and "Hundred Turds".

The members, who use Czech aliases, staged their first action in 2003 when the post-communist president Vaclav Havel was leaving office.

The guerilla artists then scaled scaffolding to cover half of a neon heart onto a Prague Castle tower - an art work symbolizing the Havel era - and turned it into a question mark.

The atomic mushroom prank earned the collective a new prize for young artists NG 333 from the National Gallery. Some 17,300 people signed a petition in Ztohoven in favour of it three weeks ago.

The state attorney, who asked the court to punish the pranksters with 200 hours of public service, has not said whether the office will appeal the verdict.

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