Racist violence against Roma continues in the Czech Republic
02 April 1998
At approximately 11 p.m. on the night of February 15, 1998, three young men in the northern Czech town of Vrchlabi beat a 26-year-old Romani woman named Helena Biháriová unconscious and then threw her into the River Labe. Her corpse was recovered approximately twelve hours later. Police at first stated that the crime was possibly related to a quarrel over money and suggested damage to health charges, but later accused all three individuals with murder with racial motivation under Article 219 (1,2 (g)) of the Czech Penal Code. The names of the perpetrators have not been disclosed by the police.
Racially-motivated violence against Roma continues to be a serious problem in the Czech Republic and recent attacks have been reported in the press, documented by the ERRC, and publicised by the government. One incident of racially-motivated violence took place in Prague in November 1997. In an interview with the ERRC on January 10, 1998, a 29-year-old Romani man named V.Š. reported that he had been attacked by skinheads in November 1997 at the Karlovo náméstí tram stop in Prague 2. He stated that he and two other Romani men were changing trams when four skinheads came out of a nearby park and attacked them. V.Š. reported that he hit one of the skinheads on the chin in self-defence. The skinheads then produced jack-knives, but the Roma managed to jump into the next tram and get away. None of the men was seriously injured and, as in the majority of skinhead attacks in the Czech Republic, they did not report the attack to the police: „We did not want any problems,” said V.Š..
Czech dailies reported that on January 11, 1998, three Roma were attacked while visiting the pub U Michalú in Nyrany, near the western Czech city of Plzen. According to Mladá Fronta Dnes, one of the people in the pub reported that the guests began to shout racist epithets at the Roma as soon as they entered the pub. When the Roma did not leave, three individuais attacked them physically. The owner of the pub allegedly encouraged the attack. Mladá Fronta Dnes quoted the speaker of the West Bohemian police, Ms Ilona Vaničková, as saying that one of the Roma suffered bruises on his face, which were qualified by a doctor as light bodily injuries. Both the police department in Nýřany and Ms Vaničková refused to provide information on the case to the ERRC. Lidové Noviny reported that the Romani victims were 21 and 26 years old respectively, while the perpetrators were from Plzeň and were between 25 and 35 years old. According to Stanislav Penc of the Documentation Centre for Human Rights, several racist attacks have been documented in Nýřany in the past.
The ČTK news service announced on January 18 that the Czech Interior Ministry had reported two racially-motivated attacks which took place in the northeastern town of Krnov in the early morning hours of January 17. In the first attack, which occurred at around midnight, a Romani woman named Emilie Žigová was seriously burnt and one man was injured when an unknown perpetrator threw a bottle containing explosives into a flat in which five people were present. Ms Žigová reportedly fell into the fire while attempting to rescue her daughter. The fire destroyed the fiat, which belonged to a 61-year-old Romani man named Milan Kováč and caused damage in the sum of 100,000 Czech Crowns (approximately 5000 German Marks). One hour later, an unknown person set fire to a car approximately two kilometres from the site of the first attack. „As all injured parties are Roma, and similar crimes have occurred in Krnov, the police believe that the attacks were racially motivated,” Ministry spokesperson Samuel Truschka said. Deputy Interior Minister Vojtich Sedláček and police chief Oldrich Tomásek flew to Krnov to be briefed about the investigation. As of February 16, Emilie Žigová had undergone three plastic surgery operations and was in a serious condition.
Three youths were arrested by police from the northern Moravian town of Bruntál fo~ the attack on the Kováč flat. According to Bruntál investigator Zdeněk Ščerba, „The racial motivation behind the arson attack is clear. All three offenders were subjected to house search, and material about skinheads - various fliers and correspondence - was found.” One of them had already been under investigation for a previous racially-motivated act. Ail three are accused of violence against a group or individual under Article 196/2 of the Czech Criminal Code and threat to the public under Article 179/1.
26,190 people live in Krnov, more than 1000 of whom are Roma. According to Mladá Fronta Dnes, the Krnov police has documented seventeen „extremist attacks” in the town since 1993. Stanislav Penc of the Documentation Centre for Human Rights in Prague told the ERRC that his organisation has documented 130 racially-motivated attacks in Krnov. Police officials told the ERRC on February 16 that there have been five firebomb attacks on flats and cars owned by Roma in Krnov since September. According to the police, there have been two previous firebomb attacks on the house of Milan Kováč, one on February 4, 1996 and one on September 27, 1997. 18-year-old Roman Kováč, the son of Milan Kováč, told the ERRC that major damage had not been caused previously because, „both times I managed to cover the bottles with a quilt before they exploded and throw them out the window.” According to police officials, four individuals had been taken into custody and charged with threat to the public (Czech Penal Code Article 179/1) in connection with the February 1996 attack. They were subsequently released, and the investigation is, according to the police, still open, although two years have elapsed since the attack.
(ČTK, Documentation Centre for Human Rights, ERRC, Lidové Noviny, Mladá Fronta Dnes, Pravo)