Legal Defence of Roma in Czech Republic

On May 28, 2002, the High Court of Justice in Prague decided that denial of access of Mr Jan Kováč, a Romani man, to the Drago Inferno club in the western Czech city of Karlovy Vary constituted a gross violation of human dignity and that Mr Kováč was entitled to non-pecuniary damages. The case was then sent back to the Regional Court in Plzeň, as only the court of first instance can determine the amount of damages awarded. The decision follows criminal and civil lawsuits filed by Mr Kováč under a joint litigation project of the ERRC and the Counselling Centre for Citizenship/Civil and Human Rights (The Centre). On July 13, 2001, at around 10:45 PM, three persons from The Centre accompanied Mr Kováč, a Romani man, to the Drago Inferno club after receiving complaints that Roma had been refused entry to the club. Mr Kováč wore a tape recorder, hidden in the pocket of his shirt. When he tried to enter the club with the group, the bouncer at the door denied him entrance. Three other bouncers at the club proceeded to repeat to Mr Kováč that the owner of the club had given them an order that Roma not be allowed to enter the club and thus they could not allow Mr Kováč to enter. The bouncers referred to past problems with Roma who had been involved in fights in the club, but could not specify that Mr Kováč had been involved. Soon thereafter, the police were informed of the incident. The judgement is the first in the Czech Republic in which non-pecuniary damages were awarded in such a case.

In other news pertaining to Romani access to justice in Czech Republic, according to ERRC field research, on March 29, 2002, Judge Luboš Sovák of the Regional Court in Hradec Králové found Mr Vlastimil Pechanec guilty under Czech Criminal Code Article 219(2)(g) of racially-motivated murder, and sentenced him to 13 years imprisonment. On the evening of July 20, 2001, Mr Pechanec stabbed Mr Oto Absolon, a 29-year-old Romani man, to death in the eastern Bohemian town of Svitavy, while trying to drive Romani patrons out of a disco party and insulting their ethnicity (for background information on the case, see Violence including rape and killing of Roma in Czech Republic ).

Judge Sovák also ordered Mr Pechanec to pay 18,215 Czech crowns (approximately 595 euros) for Mr Absolon's funeral expenses. Mr Pechanec appealed the verdict immediately. On May 15, 2002, Mr David Strupek, the ERRC-appointed lawyer and representative of the widow, informed the ERRC that Ms Renata Vesecká, the state attorney, had also appealed the verdict and demanded an extraordinary sentence of fifteen to twenty-five years imprisonment.

(Counselling Centre for Citizenship/Civil and Human Rights, ERRC)

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