Continuing failure to prosecute racially motivated crime in the Czech Republic
07 November 1997
On September 17, an appeal hearing took place at the Regional Court in České Budejovice in the case of eleven youths, most of them skinheads, who had been found guilty on March 7 of seventeen separate crimes. Most of these were relatively minor violations against property, but the case also included two racially motivated crimes against Roma. These crimes are particularly significant because they took place in the southern Czech town of Písek, the site of numerous racist attacks, one gruesome racially motivated killing, and very little justice. The handling of the case at all levels continues to show the inability or refusal of police and judiciary to deal adequate ly with the repeated and serious racist crimes occurring in that town. The first case involved an attack by four youths on Mr Vladimir Cina, a 46 year-old Romani man, which had taken place on April 25, 1996. During the attack, first one, then all four, youths attacked Mr Cina and beat him. When he fell to the ground, they kicked him and hit him with a piece of wood he had been carrying. Mr Cina was incapable of work for almost two weeks afterwards. The youths also shouted racist insults at Mr Cina. Three of the assailants were found guilty in the March hearing of disorderly conduct (Czech Penal Code Article 202, paragraph 1), violence against a group of inhabitants and an individual (Article 196, paragraphs 2 and 3; paragraph 2 qualifies the crime as racially motivated) and injury the health (Article 221. paragraphs 1 and 2b). The original verdict was based on testimony by Cina himself and by the two witnesses to the attack, one of whom, a policeman, followed the youths and later arrested them. At the September hearing, however, the appeal court annulled the district court's verdict, and returned the case for further investigation. The reason given was lack of sufficient evidence, despite the fact that the victim's account of the events was corroborated by that of the policeman. Observers are concerned that on of the few examples of a relatively rapid and successful prosecution of racist attackers in Písek should have been quashed for dubious reasons at appeal.
The second case concerned a large group of skinheads who, on April 19, 1996, attacked two houses in Písek inhabited by Romani families. Among the residents of the houses are family members of murdered Romani boy Tibor Danihel (See Roma Rights, Summer 1997). During the attack, skinheads shouted threatening and racist slogans, kicked in the class n the doors of both houses, and broke a window by throwing stones at it. Witnesses to the attack on the houses, including residents there, stated that when the police arrived, instead of trying to apprehend the attackers, they concentrated on trying to "calm down" the Roma, allowing the skinheads to escape. In addition, some of the witnesses claim to have seen police, out of uniform, among the attackers.
Despite eyewitness accounts which put the number of attackers at between twenty and thirty, only five people were charged with crimes. At a trial at a firs-instance court on March 7 of this year, three youths were found guilty of disorderly conduct (Article 202/1, Czech Criminal Code) and defamation of nation, race and creed (Article 198, paragraphs 1a and 2). Two of these were also found guilty of support and propagation of movements aiming at the suppression of basic rights and freedoms (Article 261). The two other youths charged will be dealt with in separate hearings. The appeal court upheld the original verdict despite interventions on behalf of the victims by their representative Jakub Polák, who questioned the implausibly small number of individuals charged. The discrepancy between the large number of attackers reported by witnesses and the small number of people charged is typical of the widespread practice of charging only small subsets of large violent racist groups in Czech Republic. The court's failure to properly define the event may have further judicial repercussions; following the attack and inadequate police response, a group of Roma attacked skinheads in a nightclub. By reducing the scale of the attack on the Romani houses, the court has effectively suppressed part of the explanation of the later event, for which fifteen Roma are now facing charges. The resulting and justified feeling of unequal protection can only be increased by the passivity of the appeal court.