Community attack on Roma in Klatovy, Czech Republic
15 July 1997
Two Romani men were chased and beaten in the western Czech town of Klatovy at around 11:30 pm one evening in mid-May 1997. The initial incident led to an attack on a house inhabited by a number of Roma.
According to testimony provided to the ERRC by one of the victims, a middle-aged Romani man named Jaroslav Jano, he and his brother were returning from a pub when they were accosted by a group of around fifteen men who shouted taunts such as "We will kill you!" and "We will get you now, Gypsies!" The men also called Jano and his brother "chimney sweeps", a reference both to the colour of their skin and, according to Jano, to an "old family nick name". As the two men attempted to pass the group, there was a scuffle and the group began to chase the two Jano brothers.
According to Jaroslav Jano, he and his brother ran in different directions. He ran towards home. Approximately ten people chased him and, since he attempted to evade them by running through the backyards of neighbouring houses, they actually arrived at the house before him. Jano entered his house from the back, and assisted family members in barricading the door, which the attackers were attempting to kick in. One of the women shouted from inside the house to the attackers that there were children inside. Members of the crowd allegedly responded, "We want the children! We'll put them in the fire! We'll roast your children!"
When the attackers managed to break the door down, Jano challenged them to fight him individually. One of the women in the house also told them that she had called the police, at which point the crowd dispersed. One of the men allegedly challenged Jano to fight him the next day. Mr. Jano also told the ERRC that, more recently, men from the group have threatened to shoot him.
Ladimír Jano, the second of the two men chased by the crowd, was allegedly pursued by approximately five men. When he fell while running, he was beaten and kicked repeatedly. Following the attack, Ladimír Jano spent ten days in hospital with a concussion and, at the time of the ERRC visit on June 11, he was still heavily medicated and unable to provide testimony.
Klatovy is the site of an incident of serious community violence which took place in 1991. From February 21 - February 23 of that year, a pogrom was carried out against a Romani extended family in the town. This culminated, on February 23, in serious injuries to several of them. One Romani man, Emil Bendík, a nephew of the Jano brothers, was beaten to death.
In connection with the 1991 incident, a regional court in Plzen found 28 persons guilty of injury to health (Criminal Code Article 222/1), damage to property (257/1), violation of home and privacy (238/1), and disorderly con duct (202/1). In March 1993, the court sentenced eight persons to prison terms of between sixteen months and seven and a half years. The rest received suspended sentences.
In April 1997, one of the individuals who had been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for the 1991 pogrom, a Czech man named Pavel Böhm, was granted an early release for good behaviour. Böhm was identified by Jaroslav Jano as among the group of people who attacked him and his brother in the recent incident. Additionally, Jano told the ERRC that Böhm had been eager to fight him on the day following the attack upon the house.
Roma in Klatovy report that attacks against them are common. Non-Roma from the town frequently attack Roma in gangs. One cousin of the Janos described having been thrown from a footbridge over a local stream. A Romani man and his son were allegedly badly beaten one night while returning from work. Jaroslav Jano told the ERRC that, independent of the attacks of February 1991, non-Roma from the area had set his fiat on fire, also in 1991.
Prosecutor Jiřina Vítovcová, in an interview with the local weekly Týdenník Klatovska immediately after the incident, stated that, according to the police's information, a total of three men had taken part in the May 1997 attack. Prosecutor Vítovcová also claimed that while the recently released Pavel Böhm had, indeed, been present in the crowd at the Jano house during the May attack, he had only been trying to calm people down.
A spokesperson for the Klatovy police told the ERRC that on June 2, a 24-year-old man - not Böhm had been taken into custody in connection with the May incident. According to the police, he has been accused of defamation of nation, race and belief (Criminal Code Article 198/2), violation of home and privacy (238/1), violence against a group (196/2) and disorderly conduct (202/1) by the police. Czech dailies reported on June 13 that a second man, Pavel Böhm, had also been arrested but Prosecutor Vítovcová told the ERRC on July 23 that the investigation against him had been dropped due to lack of evidence. Prosecutor Vítovcová also told the ERRC that the first suspect, Svatoslav Kožišek, had been released from custody.
On June 13, the ERRC sent a letter to the Czech General Prosecutor, pointing out the discrepancy between witness accounts and the number of perpetrators evidently being sought by the local authorities. Additionally we urged a thorough and independent investigation to ensure that all individuals responsible for criminal activity be apprehended and prosecuted. (ERRC)