Romani woman dies during skinhead attack in the Czech Republic
07 November 1997
On September 20, a 36-year-old Romani woman named Erika Gáborová died of an epileptic seizure during a skinhead attack in the western Czech town of Domažlice. According to reports in the Czech dailies Mlada Fronta Dnes, Právo and the Romani news service Romské vysílání, eleven or twelve members of the skinhead movement, aged between 18 and 24, drove past a house in Domažlice inhabited by Roma, firing air pistols into the air and shooting lead balls from a catapult out of the car. Driving past a second time, at least one skinhead got out of the car and shouted threatening and racist slogans. It was then or immediately afterwards that Ms Gáborová died in the corridor on the ground floor inside the house. According to police investigator Alexandr Horák, "When the skinheads drove past for the first time, Ms Gáborová was in the park opposite the house. She was scared, and ran inside. But she didn't get past the downstairs corridor."
Alexandr Cifra, a witness, recounted the incident as follows: "I was looking out on the Street when I heard a bang. It sounded like a shot. I opened the window, and three cars were driving down the street in front of the house. I heard breaking glass and saw one of the drivers aiming a pistol at me. Then I heard another shot and the cars drove off. I went downstairs and Erika was lying in the corridor. She managed to say to me that she had been scared of the shots which had come through the glass of the doors. She started to faint and suffocate." Dr Vojtech Hynek, of Domažlice hospital, says that when the emergency team arrived, there were no signs of life. Hynek stated that he believes Ms Gáborová suffered an epileptic seizure. According to Hynek, it is likely that in the early stages of the fit, which had proba bly been brought on by fear, Ms Gáborová had fallen unconscious and choked to death. Hynek's hypothesis was confirmed in an autopsy.
The accused have a different version of the story. "We went past the house, but I don't remember anyone shouting anything racist at the Gypsies," said Pavel Doubek, who is in custody, and who had a week left before the expiry of a ten-month probation period for previous racist acts. He also, however, admit ted that he couldn't remember very well because he had been drunk. Six of the nine skinheads arrested in connection with the incident were released from custody several days later, on September 23. The police requested that all nine be held in pre-trial detention, but the court, under Judge František Pokorný, ordered that only those three who already have criminal records be kept in custody. Two of the three individuals with criminal records have a history of racially motivated crime.
This was not the first attack on the house. One of the youths arrested had already been prosecuted a year before for kicking in the door of the house, and his friends had broken several Windows. Similar incidents have forced the Roma to fortify the house, covering the Windows with shutters and fastening the door from inside with a bar. Police investigator Horák, however, in an interview with Jarmila Baláiová for the Romani Broadcast on Czech Radio One, said he did not consider that the house had been chosen deliberately. Investigator Horák is the police officer who was allegedly implicated in the shooting death of a Romani man named Martin Cerveriák in police custody in the western Czech town of Horšovsky Týn in 1994.
The police have also not decided whether to link Gáborová's death to the skinhead's actions. "We don't have the autopsy results," said Emil Holub from the Investigators' Office. Horák added, "There would of course be no way of proving that the offenders intended such a result, or that they caused the woman's death by negligence." For the time being, the skinheads are accused of disorderly conduct (Article 202 of the Czech Criminal Code), defamation of nation, race and belief (Article 198), and violence against a group of inhabitants (Article 196, paragraphs 2 and 3), for which they could face a maximum of three years in Arison.
(ERRC, Mlada Fronta Dnes, Právo, Romské vysílání)