Czech Senate appeals to Justice Minister to act in Tibor Danihel case
On Thursday, December 4, Senator Pavel Rychetský proposed a motion calling on Minister of Justice Vlasta Parkanová to submit a complaint for breach of law to the Czech Supreme Court in the case of the drowning of Tibor Danihel by skinheads in September 1993 in the town of Písek, southern Czech Republic (see Roma Rights, Spring 1997). The motion, which was passed unanimously, has no precedent in the Czech Republic. A small demonstration in support of the Senate’s suggestion was held in Písek on December 13, despite opposition from Mayor Tom Zajíček, who threatened to ban it. Mayor Zajíček complained in a press release the day before about „counterproductive” pressure upon the Minister. Both the Senate and the demonstrators allege serious abuses in the investigation and trial of the killers of Tibor Danihel including the manipulation of witnesses’ testimony, distortion of forensic evidence, failure to remand suspected persons into custody, and failure to qualify the skinheads’ act as murder. Minister Parkanová did submit a complaint on December 16, two days before the deadline to do so. On February 26, the Czech Supreme Court annulled the lower court verdict and sent the case back to be retried at a regional court in České Budéjovice. The case has been, for many, a symbol of the Czech authorities’ failure to provide justice to Roma in the country.
There was also motion in the so-called “Kladno swimming pool case”. On December 8, the District Court in the Central Bohemian town of Kladno found Deputy Mayor Slavomír Cirnfus guilty of incitement to racial hatred under paragraph 198a (1) of the Czech Criminal Code. On June 12, 1996, during an outbreak of hepatitis A in the town, Cirnfus had put up a sign at the LARS swimming pool complex, banning entry to Romani children under the age of 15. He justified this action with the fact that 80% of the reported cases of hepatitis A involved Romani children, and with the claim that the Romani community was ignoring a quarantine order.
The case had previously been heard by the same court on February 21, 1997. On that occasion, Cirnfus had been acquitted, with Judge Roman Lada stating that while the substantive definition of the crime had been fulfilled, Cirnfus’s act did not constitute a danger to society. The state prosecutor contested this decision, and at an appeal hearing in the Regional Court in Prague last June, the case was sent back to Kladno. The Kladno District Court has now concluded that Cirnfus’s act did, after all, endanger society. Cirnfus, who has been fined 16,000 Czech Crowns (approximately 600 German Marks) by the court, appealed, but a Prague court ruling on February 19, upheld the earlier verdict.
This is the first time that a public official in the Czech Republic has been found guilty under one of the Criminal Code paragraphs pertaining to racially-motivated crime, and the new-found awareness of the danger to society of discriminatory practice is to be welcomed. However, existing Czech Criminal Code provisions – which are directed primarily against racist speech – constitute poor substitutes for criminal, civil and administrative prohibitions against, and punishment of, discriminatory acts as such.