Czech Minister of Justice will not file a complaint for "breach of law" in racially motivated killing; skinheads attack witnesses during trial; more racial discrimination and violence against Roma in the Czech Republic
5 September 1999
Vladimír Voráček, spokesperson for the Czech Ministry of the Interior, told the ERRC on July 29, 1999, that Minister of Justice Otokar Motejl „did not and will not file a complaint against the decision of the court in the case of Helena Biháriová.” Twenty-six-year-old Ms Biháriová, a Romani woman from the northeastern Czech town of Vrchlabí, died in February 1998 after being forced into the Labe River by 24-year-old Petr Klazar and 24-year-old Jiří Neffe (see „Snapshots from around Europe”, Roma Rights, Winter 1998). A court in Hradec Králové ruled in September 1998, that there had been no racial motivation in the case. The same court overturned its own earlier ruling and reduced the sentence against Klazar from 6.5 years to fifteen months imprisonment for disturbing the peace. He was set free on the day of the verdict. Mr Neffe was sentenced to 8.5 years in prison for duress resulting in death, and disturbing the peace (see „Snapshots from around Europe”, Roma Rights, Number 1, 1999). Mr Voráček stated that Minister of Justice Motelj did not find a breach of the law which would legitimate an extra-legal complaint by his office. This marks the end of the legal proceedings in the Czech Republic.
Racially motivated violence in the Czech Republic continues. Skinheads reportedly attacked Ms Jana Chalupová, a senior official in the office of President Vacláv Havel, and Mr Jakub Polák, legal representative of one of the victims in a racially motivated assault trial, during a court recess in the northern Moravian town of Karvina on August 4, 1999. Radio Prague reported on August 5 that skinheads had thrown eggs and tomatoes at Mr Polák and Ms Chalupová while they were eating lunch in a local restaurant. The skinheads escaped while the restaurant owner was calling the police. Police reportedly detained one man, Mr J.M., after the attack, but released him shortly thereafter. As of August 31, police were investigating the case and had three suspects. Mr Polák and Ms Chalupová were attending the trial of five skinheads who had been charged with threatening and insulting witnesses during the trial of the killers of a Romani man named Milan Lacko in October 1998. According to reports in the media, Mr Lacko died after being run over by a car and a lorry after skinheads had beaten him unconscious and thrown him onto a road in the northern Moravian town of Orlová in May 1998 (see „Snapshots from around Europe”, Roma Rights, Spring 1998 and Roma Rights, Number 2, 1999). Some witnesses state that Mr Lacko was not run over by a lorry. Ruling in the Lacko case in October 1998, the first instance court found four skinheads — 16-year-old David J., 20-year-old Petr D., 17-year-old Leoš F. and 17-year-old Pavel F. — guilty of damage to health and racially motivated damage to health under Czech Penal Code Articles 221(1) and 221(2b), as well as disturbing the peace under Article 202(1). The court suspended all four sentences of imprisonment. A second instance court returned the case to the first instance court for review on June 16, 1999 (see „Snapshots from around Europe”, Roma Rights, Number 2, 1999). As of August 31, the Milan Lacko case was still under investigation by the investigator’s office in Karvina.
The present trial pertains to two racially motivated incidents which took place in late 1998. In the first incident, on October 28, 1998, the day of the last hearing in the Milan Lacko case, a group of approximately ten skinheads verbally assaulted Romani activist Petr Horváth and ERRC correspondent Markus Pape, calling the latter a „Jewish swine”. On November 25, 1998, two of the same skinheads allegedly assaulted a Romani man named Karol F. in a bus between Orlová and Haviřov. On May 10, 1999, prosecutors brought the following charges in connection with the two incidents against five skinheads:
- damage to health and racially motivated damage to health: Martin H. and Michal G.
- provoking racial and national hatred: Martin H., Michal G., René R., and Josef M.
- disturbing the peace: Martin H., Michal G., René R., and Josef M.
- support and propagation of movements aiming at the suppression of the rights and freedoms of citizens: Martin H., Michal G., René R., Pavel F. The latter is one of the persons convicted in connection with the killing of Milan Lacko.
The attack on Ms Chalupová and Mr Polák is the second violent incident that has disrupted the trial. On June 7, 1999, the first day of the trial, Mr. Josef M., one of the accused, attacked a photographer from the Czech daily Právo. A security guard present during the attack reportedly did not intervene. Mr Josef M. has been charged with disturbing the peace in connection with the assault.
Other instances of racial discrimination and violence against Roma have been reported recently in the Czech Republic. Radio Prague reported on September 1 that police in South Moravia had arrested twelve people in a violent attack on a Romani family of eight in the town of Třebič on August 27. Five people were injured and several cars were destroyed in the attack, according to a report by the commercial television station Nova. The station claimed that a local businessman had ordered the attack, in a bid to force the Romani families from their homes, which were part of property he had recently bought. Police reportedly told Nova that most of the detained persons had confessed.
According to the Czech daily Právo, a group of skinheads attacked a 27-year-old Romani man named Tibor M. in a bar in the northern Moravian town of Jeseník on July 17, 1999. The skinheads, armed with baseball bats and pool cues, shouted racist abuse at the man before attacking him. They also hurled pool balls at the man and called him a „nigger” and a „black swine”, the newspaper says. The man required two weeks to recover from the attack. Five skinheads, all youths under the age of eighteen, were taken into custody after being detained at the scene of the attack. Six people have been charged with defamation of race and nation and disturbing the peace in connection with the incident. One of the accused is also charged with damage to health. Four of the persons charged are from Jeseník and two are from the nearby town of Opava. Two of the persons charged have criminal records. Mr Dušan Bady, Chairman of the local Organisation for the Human Rights of Romani Citizens, told the ERRC that there have been more than ten racially-motivated attacks in Jeseník in 1999, but that most have not been investigated by the police. „The police here co-operate with the skinheads,” Mr Bady said.
On July 15, the Czech government presented its report on racist and extremist crime for 1998. According to the report, out of a total of 425,930 criminal acts committed, 133 (0.03%) were racially motivated. Of these, 100 crimes had been solved. Also according to the government, the number of sympathisers of the skinheads, autonomists and anarchists was between 8750 and 9350 persons, a rise from the roughly 5500 in 1997. The number of skinheads increased by 40 percent. The highest amount of extremist sympathisers was registered in the southern Moravian region (2800-3400), in Prague (2430) and northern Bohemia (1250). In the report, Czech authorities evidently regard racist skinheads and adherents to anarchist and autonomist groups as equivalent.
The report states that the skinheads most often committed the following crimes: violence against groups of inhabitants and individuals (Article 196(2) and 196(3)); defamation of race and nation (Article 198); provoking national and racial hatred (Article 198a); support and propagation of movements aiming at the suppression of rights and freedoms of citizens (Article 260); racially motivated damage to health (Article 221(2b), Article 222(2b)); and disturbing the peace (Article 202). According to the government report, the gravest cases of racially motivated crime in 1998 were the killing of Helena Biháriová in Vrchlabí in February and the killing of Milan Lacko in Orlová in May. The ERRC notes that in the former case, authorities did not qualify the crime as racially motivated, while in the latter, all convicted perpetrators received suspended sentences (see „Snapshots from around Europe”, Roma Rights, Number 1, 1999).
The barring of Roma from entry into two night clubs in the western Czech town of Plzeň made national headlines in late July. On July 27, 1999, Romani students filed a complaint of racial discrimination with the police in the western Bohemian town of Plzeň in connection with an incident which had taken place on July 23, according to the daily Právo. The students claimed that they had been denied entry into two local clubs because they were Roma. Právo reported that five students aged 17-30 from the central Bohemian towns of Prague, Kolín and Louny had been denied entry into a club during an international summer language school at the West-Bohemian University. „We went to the club because we heard that it was a great discotheque. At the door, one of the employees told us we were not allowed in because we were not members of the club,” an 18-year-old Romani student told Právo. „We respected this and went back to the dormitory. However, our American fellow-students told us that they had visited the club without being members. We returned to the club and were rejected again. Then we went to another club where they asked us for identity cards. We asked why and they said, ‘Are you Gypsies? Then get out!’” Police reportedly attempted to dissuade the students from filing the complaint and only agreed to accept it after the students persisted. According to Právo, Plzeň police stated that they had opened investigation. More than six hundred participants of the international summer school subsequently decided to boycott the discotheque.
It was similarly reported to the ERRC that on January 29, 1999, Mr Roman Slivka, Romani advisor at the Regional Government Office in České Budejovice, wrote a complaint to the Czech Trade Inspection (CTI) in Prague in connection with the racist refusal to serve Roma in restaurants. He told the ERRC, „Often Roma visited me and told me about discrimination in restaurants. I did not believe them. But then I went with my wife and a friend to the housing area Maj and visited a pub. And indeed they did not want to serve me. Supposedly some Roma owe them money. I told him that neither myself nor my friend owe them any money, but he did not change his mind. Then I asked the waiter for the name of the company running the bar, but he refused to tell me. Then we left and I wrote down the address and name of the company written on the door and sent all this to a Romani employee of the CTI in Prague.” At the beginning of August 1999, Ms Andrea Skopcová, a Romani employee of the CTI in Prague, went with three employees of the trade inspection in České Budejovice and Mr Slivka to the pub and ordered a cola. The waiter did not serve her. The daily Mladá Fronta Dnes (MFD) quotes Mr Slivka as stating that the waiter said, „You will not even get water”. Ms Jana Nováková, a lawyer from the CTI in České Budejovice, told the ERRC on August 18, 1999, that the offence had been proven and the CTI would send the pub owner the decision of the inspection. If the pub owner did not appeal within five days, the inspection would send him a final decision within thirty days and he would have to pay a fine. According to information made available to the ERRC, there have been sixteen complaints about a discriminatory refusal to serve in 1998, and twelve such complaints in 1999, as of the end of July.
Anti-Romani petitions have also been filed in the Czech Republic recently. According to Radio Prague, around one hundred inhabitants of the northern Moravian town of Krnov signed a petition against Roma at the end of June. Signatories of the petition complain that Roma sit on the street being noisy, listening to loud music, leaving a mess and spoiling the neighbourhood. The petition makes an explicit reference to Roma. Radio Prague quotes the town’s deputy mayor, Mr Jiří Vodíčka as saying, „This is not a Czech-Roma problem. Some elderly people bought flats in this street and they want to live there in peace. It is only coincidental that the youth are Roma.” Krnov has been the site of numerous attacks on Roma, including a firebombing on January 17, 1998 (see „Snapshots from Around Europe”, Roma Rights, Winter 1998). Trial in the firebombing case is on-going.
Similarly, on August 10, 1999, ČTK reported that Czech inhabitants of the quarter Horní Kosovo in the central Czech town Jíhlava were collecting signatures on an anti-Roma-petition. According to ČTK the petition is entitled „Impulse for the Solution of the Gypsy Question in Jíhlava”. One Romani man from Jíhlava, Mr Julius Ferenc, reportedly told ČTK that he intended to file a complaint against Mr J.H., the alleged initiator of the petition. A Romani woman from Jíhlava, Ms Ciňová, told ČTK that many restaurants and dance halls in Jíhlava refuse service to Roma. Another anti-Romani petition — in the southern Moravian town of Znojmo — was reported to the ERRC in Spring 1999.
(ČTK, ERRC, MFD, Nova Právo, Radio Prague)