Retrial opens in Tibor Danihel killing; other judicial developments in the Czech Republic

The Czech press reported on June 23 that the regional court in the southern Czech town of Tábor had opened proceedings in the case of Tibor Danihel, the young Roma who was drowned in the river Otava in the town of Písek in 1993 by a group of racist skinheads.

The case was closed in June 1997 when a regional court in České Budĕjovice handed down light sentences against four defendants. In December, Minister of Justice Ms Vlasta Parkanová filed an extra-judicial appeal to the Supreme Court (see Roma Rights, Winter 1998). In February 1998 the Supreme Court overturned the ruling and returned the case to lower court for retrial. Chairperson of the Supreme Court Senate Mr Jiří Pácal stated at the time of the February decision that the previous court had not inquired whether the crime had been committed on purpose or due to negligence. He added that the court had neglected to hear important witnesses, such as an Austrian citizen named Anton Walch, who was an eyewitness to the crime.

The regional court in Tábor heard one of the defendants in the June 23 hearing. On August 10, Judge Jiří Bernát, head of the Regional Court Senate, and Mr Jaroslav Bašta, the new Czech minister without portfolio, went to Písek to reconstruct the events of the crime. The entire proceedings were observed by a group of skinheads who shouted comments supporting the accused. One of the skinheads was reportedly taken away by the police. According to the daily Právo of August 15, Judge Bernát initiated a search for witnesses of the murder who had not responded to previous appeals to submit testimony. This time, the Danihel case is being investigated as a murder case, and witnesses can be prosecuted for not appearing in court. "Many things were not investigated properly. The work of the police was not sufficiently detailed," Judge Bernát said, according to the daily Mladá Fronta Dnes of August 31. The files documenting the initial interrogations of the skinheads were missing, and the police officer who had personally interrogated some of the skinheads said that he could not remember at all who he had spoken with nor what they had said. "At the post-mortem the body of the drowned was not photographed adequately. The court has only three colour photographs with shots of the legs and the back," said Judge Bernát. According to the same newspaper, a police technician who filmed the body on a videotape deleted the film later on. The verdict is expected in October this year.

In other news related to the activities of the criminal justice system to combat racially motivated crime, ČTK reported on June 1 that the investigation into the January firebombing of a flat inhabited by Roma in the northern Moravian town of Krnov has not yet been sent to the prosecutor, because despite having heard over forty witnesses, police investigators said they had not yet gathered enough evidence to charge the skinhead suspects. One Romani woman, Ms Emilie Žigová, suffered serious burns in the attack and her husband was also injured (see Roma Rights, Winter 1998). Three persons have been in custody in connection with the attack since January.

Other developments in racially-motivated crimes litigation were also reported in the Czech press. Three men were indicted on June 25 on charges of coercion under Article 235(1) and 235(3) in connection with the death of a young Romani woman on February 15, 1998. Initial reports and independent investigations conducted by the ERRC indicated that three men severely beat 26-year-old Ms Helena Biháriová and then threw her into the river Labe in Vrchlabí, northern Czech Republic, where she died (see Roma Rights, Winter 1998). The investigation organs argue that the crime was not racially motivated, and that the most serious charge they could bring was aggravated coercion (Vydírání) resulting in death.

Investigators also concluded that only two men were involved, while a third suspect had been at home asleep at the time. The two men indicted are a 23-year-old house-painter from Vrchlabí and a brick-layer of the same age from the nearby village of Hostinné. The third suspect was released from custody in early June. Investigators reportedly stated during indictment proceedings that the victim had not been badly beaten and that the men were not racists. They had, said investigators, only called the woman a "whore" and a "thief", and had beaten her because she had stolen 200 Czech crowns (approximately 11 German marks). The act of coercion which resulted in death was, according to investigators, the moment at which the two men forced the now-bloody Ms Biháriová to wash herself in the river Labe, as a result of which she died. State Attorney Mr Miroslav Antl told journalists on June 25 that there was no proof the woman had been murdered because of her ethnic origins. According to State Attorney Antl, the case had been marked by premature judgements and hysteria from the very beginning.

In other news pertaining to racially motivated crime, ČTK reported on July 23 that a state attorney in Karvina, northern Moravia, had decided to release from custody three of the four skinheads, aged between 16 and 20, charged with inflicting grievous bodily injury on a Romani man named Milan Lacko. Mr Lacko was attacked in the town of Orlova, near the northern Moravian city of Ostrava on the night of May 15. The skinheads reportedly beat him severely and left him lying in a road where he was killed when a lorry ran over him (see Roma Rights, Spring 1998).

The ERRC noted that Roma charged with similar crimes are less likely to be released from custody.

Meanwhile, violent racially motivated crime continues in the Czech Republic. The daily Slovo reported that on July 4, six skinheads from the southern Czech town of Písek had stabbed a Romani man named Roman Morej five times in the stomach, back and arms in a restaurant at the train station in the nearby town of Protivín. The owner of the restaurant and uncle of the victim, Mr Dušan Diro, told Slovo, "The waitress called me into the conflict. Three drunk skins had thrown Roman onto the pool table, beat him with a truncheon and stabbed him. I had to close three hours early, because after the brawl it looked like a slaughterhouse. There were broken mugs and truncheons, up-ended chairs, and there was blood everywhere. The saddest thing about it is that if I got together with other Gypsies and we stabbed a skinhead, the police would never let us out after interrogating us - we would be put straight in jail. Those skins were out before midnight."

Another Romani family in Protivín reported that on the same evening of July 4, the window of their house had been broken when skinheads threw stones at it. Protivín, with a population of approximately 2000, is the home of around thirty-five Roma, many of whom are in mixed marriages with non-Roma, Mayor Jan Vojik told Slovo.

Spokesperson for the Písek police Jan Tihelka told Slovo that his department was investigating an attack on three Roma by six skinheads, aged 18 to 23. He stated that one 21-year-old Rom had been admitted to hospital with stab wounds, and three skinheads had sought medical treatment. Officer Tihelka refused to comment about whether the incident was racially motivated or not.

(ČTK, ERRC, Mladá Fronta Dnes, Právo, Slovo)

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