Prosecuting racist criminals in the Czech Republic
Czech courts have recently rendered a number of decisions in connection with instances of racially motivated crime. In some cases, especially where there has been intense domestic and international media attention paid to cases, verdicts have departed from a previous general tendency to acquit skinheads or pass shamefully mild sentences. In other cases, the Czech judicial system continues to render unsatisfactory decisions.
On October 7, 1999, Sylvie Kirstenová, a judge of the District Court in Karvina, returned strict sentences on five skinheads who had racially abused Roma and journalists and propagated Nazism in public. The skinheads verbally abused Romani activist Petr Horváth and ERRC consultant Markus Pape during the trial in connection with the 1998 killing in Karvina of a Romani man named Milan Lacko by skinheads (see most recently “Snapshots from around Europe”, Roma Rights 3/99). Additionally, two of the skinheads convicted on October 7 attacked two Roma in a bus after the 1998 killing. Three of the skinheads received sentences of custody prison between 12 and 16 months, the two others were given suspended sentences of between five and nine months. Mr Martin Herman (19) was sentenced for racially-motivated physical attack to one year imprisonment under Criminal Code Articles 221(1 and 2b), Article 202(1) and Article 198(1), as well as for propagating Nazism and rioting under Articles 261 and 202(1). Mr Michal Gracík (19) was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment for the racial physical attack under Criminal Code Articles 221(1 and 2b), Article 202(1) and Article 198(1a) and for propagating Nazism and rioting according to Articles 261 and 202(1). In addition, he has to pay a fine of 750 Czech crowns to the victim as compensation for injuries. Mr Pavel Fučo (18) was sentenced to five months imprisonment suspended for fifteen months for propagating Nazism according to Criminal Code Article 261. Mr Rene Reiser (24) was sentenced to sixteen months imprisonment under high security for propagating Nazism and rioting. Mr Josef Mišura (24) was sentenced to nine months imprisonment suspended for two and a half years for defamation of race, nation or opinion according to Article 198(1). Mr Reiser received a stricter sentence because he has a record of having committed racially motivated crimes in the past. On November 12, 1996, he was found guilty of two racial attacks and several more crimes and sentenced to a combined sentence of three years and three months. In fact, he ultimately spent less than seven months in prison, before he was set free and the rest of his sentence was suspended to four years. Two of the men appealed the verdict on the spot.
The outcomes of other cases have not been so positive. The Czech daily Právo reported on December 3, 1999, that a second instance Regional Court in the western Czech town of Plzeň had decided at the end of November 1999 to remove a racial discrimination case against the restaurant owner Ivo Blahout from Rokycany from the competence of Judge Jana Sládková of the District Court Rokycany. Mr Blahout, the restaurant owner of the Na Železné in Rokycany was charged in April 1995 in connection with allegedly having ordered waiters in his pub not to serve Roma. Mr Blahout has since been elected to the town council of Rokycany. The case has been open since 1995. It will now be retried by the District Court in Rokycany for the fourth time. It is not clear who will rule in the case, since Ms Sládková is, according to Právo, the only criminal judge at the court. The ERRC has been following the case since the organisation first opened offices in 1996 (see “Snapshots from around Europe”, Roma Rights, Autumn 1996).
In another case, on December 7, 1999, a judge in the northern Czech town of Krnov acquitted all accused in the January 1998 firebombing of a flat inhabited by Roma and a car belonging to them. The flat of Mr Roman Kováč was firebombed on January 17, 1998 (see “Snapshots from around Europe”, Roma Rights Winter 1998). Three minors had been charged with crimes in connection with the attack, but the Judge Lumír Čablík, ruling at the District Court in Bruntál, ruled that there was a lack of evidence to convict. According to Mladá Fronta Dnes, December 8, 1999, Judge Čablík stated, “Some of the witnesses totally changed their testimony during the trial. It is clear that they lied. But there are no direct witnesses. Nobody saw the young men with firebombs or witnessed the bombing. Analysis of their clothes did not show any evidence of traces of petrol or by-products of the fire.” Observers blamed the failure to convict on inadequate police investigation. The state attorney appealed the verdict on the spot. The damaged parties did not have legal representation and did not appeal the verdict. In 1996 there were two unsuccessful firebomb attacks on the same house in Krnov. On February 2, 1996, four skinheads threw firebombs at the house. Four skinheads are currently on trial in connection with the attack. The case has been appealed twice and is now before the Czech High Court in Olomouc. On February 16, 1996, four skinheads again reportedly firebombed the house. It is not known what legal measures have been taken by Czech authorities in connection with the second attack. Police did not take measures after the first two incidents to protect the later victims of the third firebomb attack.
Finally, on January 24, 2000, a judge at the District Court of the northern Moravian town of Jeseník returned an extremely unsatisfactory decision in the case of a skinhead attack on a Romani man named Tibor Mižikar. Six skinheads had been indicted for having attacked Mr Mižikar at approximately 10:40 PM in a bar in Jeseník called Tequila. The skinheads reportedly threw pool balls at Mr Mižikar, hitting him with pool cues and a baseball bat and insulting his Romani origin. Observers noted that the attack appeared to have been an attempt to kill Mr Mižikar. Witnesses stated that at least eight persons took part in the attack. During the last hearing on January 24, the judge had been shown a video tape found at one of the skinhead’s flats. It was filmed at the birthday party of one of the witnesses in the case, and reportedly featured Neonazis shouting Nazi slogans and sharpening knives “to kill Gypsies and Jews”.
In the January 24 ruling, the court found only two of the six men guilty of the crimes of damage to health and racially motivated damage to health (Criminal Code Articles 221(1 and 2b), disturbing the peace and disturbing the peace in a group (Articles 202(1 and 2)), and defamation of nation or race (198 (1a)). Mr Radek Šupa from Opava was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment due to the fact that he had previously been convicted of a racially motivated act. Mr Edvard Šindler from Opava was sentenced to twenty-two months imprisonment. He had previously been convicted on December 2, 1998, to a ten month sentence for racially motivated violence under Criminal Code Articles 196(2), 202(1), 221(1 and 2b) and Article 202(1), but since at that time he had been a minor, the court had suspended his sentence for eighteen months. The new twenty-two month sentence includes the previous sentence. Four individuals were acquitted. The state attorney appealed the verdict on the spot, as did the attorneys of the condemned.
One of the two men reportedly at the scene of the crime, but not charged, was Mr M.K. On September 22, 1999, the same District Court in Jeseník had sentenced him for crimes according to Articles 202(1), 198(1)(a) and 196(2) to imprisonment of eight months in connection with a racially motivated attack on May 25, 1999. In the attack, Mr M.K. and Mr A.J. had racially assaulted a Romani man named Pavel Žiga, who was sitting on a park bench near the railway station of Jeseník. When Žiga’s dog bit Mr M.K., he shot Mr Žiga with a gas pistol in the face. However, Mr M.K. was not indicted for racially motivated bodily harm or attempted murder. Since Mr M.K. did not appeal the verdict, the verdict became valid on October 8, 1999. In addition to having been seen at the scene of the crime, the ERRC consultant saw Mr M.K. on December 6, 1999, at the court in Jeseník, evidently at large.
Mladá Fronta Dnes reported on January 19, 2000, that in the first half of 1999, 266 persons had been prosecuted for racially motivated crime, more than in the whole of 1998. Official statistics in the Czech Republic are an inaccurate method of gauging the number of anti-Romani hate crimes in the country, since statistics include Roma charged with racially motivated crimes against non-Roma. Finally, a market research and analysis group called IVVM published a detailed opinion poll on popular attitudes towards minorities and other groups on December 29, 1999. The survey indicates continuing extremely negative opinions of Czechs toward Roma: 69 percent of persons surveyed do not agree that the majority of Roma are capable of living in harmony with other citizens.
(ERRC, IVVM Mladá Fronta Dnes, Právo)