Abuse of Roma by officials in the Czech Republic

03 April 1999

Roma National Congress reported the harassment of Romani activists by police in the western Czech town of Rokycany. On January 27, the Council of the Roma of Rokycany submitted a letter to Mayor of Rokycany Oldřich Kožišek concerning the conditions under which Roma in the town live. The letter called attention to the fact that ten percent of the Rokycany Roma have left the town to apply for asylum in other countries and called attention to four reasons for their flight: ghetto-like conditions in the town; a fence put up to separate Roma and non-Roma; widespread refusal to serve Roma in Rokycany's pubs and restaurants; and discrimination in the fields of housing and employment. The letter was signed by four Romani leaders, including Mr Ondřej Giňa of the Rokycany-based Fund for Hope and Understanding. The Czech daily Právo published an article shortly thereafter quoting Mayor Kožišek as referring to the letter as "typical of Giňa's racism". Mr Giňa subsequently filed a criminal complaint against the mayor. On February 26, nine police officers in riot gear reportedly stormed the house of the brother-in-law of prominent Romani activist Ilona Ferková in Rokycany and forced three persons present to stand against a wall while they rifled through their possessions. Local press reports stated that police were looking for "a Yugoslav" who was believed to be hiding in the house. On March 23, officers visited the home of Ondřej Giňa Jr, the son of Ondřej Giňa Sr, produced the letter sent to Kožišek and demanded to know if signatories had signed it under pressure. Police did not show any warrant indicating that they were legally authorised to interrogate Mr Giňa Jr. Roma in Rokycany believe that they are being put under pressure by local authorities to desist from activities such as petition-signing.

In other news pertaining to the relations between Roma and state officials, RFE/RL reported on March 19, 1999 that a policeman in the town of Ostrov, approximately 150 kilometres west of Prague, had been charged for shouting racist abuse at a group of Roma. ČTK reported that the officer in question had called the Roma "Black scum" and "Nigger lips" and had shouted "Black bastards to the gas chambers" at them. The policeman had earlier been given a one-year suspended sentence for wearing a swastika armband in public in November 1998, but the court had not dismissed him from the police force. He has now been suspended from duty.

The Czech weekly Respekt reported in its February 8-14, 1999 issue that former mayor and present member of the town council of the northern Bohemian town of Obrnice Jan Hrabák had been sentenced on February 2 to a fine of thirty thousand Czech crowns or six weeks in jail in connection with an incident at a local fair in 1998, in which he told a local Romani businessman, Mr Radek Grunza, "You black swine, you will dance to the tune of my whistle". Mr Grunza had reportedly asked him to move out of the centre of the road so that he could drive past in his car. Mr Hrabák was sentenced under Criminal Code Articles 198(1) - defamation, and 202(1) - disorderly conduct.

On February 4, the Institute for the Investigation of Public Opinion made public a study conducted in January 1999 revealing that 32% of Czechs below the age of 19 admit harbouring sentiments of racial antipathy. Of persons of all age groups who reported that they had encountered racial or ethnic hatred, 63% reported that the incidents concerned had been related to Roma. The second highest group in this category was "Ukrainians" at 9%.

(ČTK, ERRC, Fund for Hope and Understanding, Institut pro výzkum veřejného mínĕní, Právo, Respekt, RFE/RL, RNC)


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